Novelist Hope (A Separate Development, 1981; The Hottentot Room, 1982; etc.) returned to his native South Africa after a decade-and-more exile, traveling around prior to the elections of 1987, a vote the white English-speaking liberal minority had high hopes for, thinking they'd make some headway with reforms. It didn't turn out that way, of course: if anything, the ruling apartheid-ers felt the fanatical Right on their necks instead, and the terrible system got only worse. So Hope, as he follows the path of his life--from his childhood in a small town called Balfour, to official Pretoria, to Durban, to college days in Johannesburg--is struck mostly by the magnificient and tragic talent for self-illusion among the white population, conservative and liberal alike. It is a bleak, jaundiced, foreboding report--but enlivened everywhere by Hope's humor, obliquity, and utter lack of piety. From these come fine shadings: how, to whites, South African race relations depend on the metaphysics of improvement of blacks by whites (but ""instead of co-operating in his salvation the Black man proves stubborn, subtly perverse, recalcitrant and proud, and try as you may to help him, he finds ways of resisting. So it is finally, more in sorrow than in anger, that one is forced to, well. . .chastise the simple soul to correct his thinking and improve his demeanour""); or on the absurdist societal importance of beaches, or on the mesmerizing rhetorical skills of Terre'Blanche of the Afrikaaner Resistance Movement. About these and all else, Hope is free of ideological cant and at the same time freely sorrowful and pessimistic. The book ends with the dazzling improbability of Hope giving a reading in Soweto, where all his fine literary ironies are shot down first in anger, then with a literalist gaiety that's astoundingly creative given the misery of the setting: a brilliant ending to an especially honest, fleet, and memorable book.