RENEWAL TIME by Es'kia Mphahlele


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In these eight stories and two autobiographical essays, novelist Mphahlele (Chirundu, 1981; The Wanderers, 1971), again a South African citizen after 20 years of voluntary exile, incisively dramatizes the human complexities of apartheid and also offers up a couple of Nigerian tales. The most ambitious (and longest) story is ""Mrs. Plum,"" about the wealthy white woman Mrs. Plum (an anti-apartheid activist) and the narrator Karabo, her black servant. The narrative is complex and penetrating, juxtaposing two very different worlds, until it too easily turns Mrs. Plum's ridiculous affection for her dogs into sexual perversity. ""The Living and the Dead"" plumbs the psychology of the oppressor without such parody: Stoffel Visser, a petty Commissioner, comes to a human awareness of Jackson, his servant, ""who had served him with the devotion of a trained animal,"" only to decide that it's safer to let him ""continue as a machine. . . ."" It's a haunting echo of Orwell's claim that oppressors are victims of their own system. In ""A Point of Identity,"" Karel Almeida, a vividly drawn mulatto classified as ""coloured"" rather than ""native,"" turns bitter and dies at the hands of a witch doctor before officially sanctioned racism forces him from his ""native"" wife. In contrast, ""Grieg on a Stolen Piano"" is a lighthearted romp about the narrator's uncle, who survives by ""killing them with yesses."" Likewise, ""The Barber of Bariga"" (a Nigerian story told in pidgin English) and ""A Ballad of Oyo"" (about a love-triangle in Nigeria's famous markets) place the traditional and Westernized African in conflict with each other and with white arrogance. The two essays are muddy mixed bags: sensuous description of the N. Transvaal, free-floating memoir, and manifesto: (art as ""spearpoint"" or ""unbroken song"")--but, still, this is a valuable collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1988
Publisher: Readers International--dist. by Consortium (213 East Fourth St., St. Paul, MN 55101)