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INNOCENTS IN AFRICA by Drury Pifer

INNOCENTS IN AFRICA

An American Family's Story

By Drury Pifer

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-107564-6
Publisher: Harcourt

 A beautifully rendered, bittersweet memoir of an American family abroad in an alien place--the bleak mining towns of southern Africa in the 1930's and 40's--that limns exactly childhood's enviable ability to live for the moment. To tell his tale, Pifer (a playwright and former pilot born in 1933) relies on his memories but most of all on his parents' letters to his grandmother--a weekly record of their 13 years in Africa. His father--a mining engineer who graduated at the height of the Depression--accepted a position at a South African gold mine because it was the only offer he got. Excited by the prospects, Pifer's newly married parents sold their wedding presents, borrowed money for their passage, and left home: ``The Depression set them in motion, the Namaqualand desert would burn up their youth, the European war would keep them exiled,'' and soon, in a parched land, they would travel from ``innocence to experience.'' It's this innocence--a distinctly American innocence--that kept the family from folding as Pifer's father, energetic and talented, was always denied his due rewards. ``Fooled by Africa, he pressed American solutions onto African complexities,'' but caught between wily English mine-owners and resentful Afrikaner miners who hated anything English, his efforts to improve conditions for the Africans were inevitably sabotaged--in Nigel, a dusty, mean place where the author was born; in the desert outposts where De Beers diamonds are mined and the wind blows every afternoon; even in Kimberley, where the family lived well. Hardships caused his mother's early death, Pifer says, and shadowed his father's life- -but as for himself, the experience let him ``advance at my own slow African pace, picking my confused way through a world where there existed not one but two sources of light.'' A book of so many good things--love, wisdom, and luminous prose--that's also a unique record of an American childhood in pre- 1948 South Africa. (B&w photographs)