A South African immigrant tells his life story and reflects on the differences between his native country and the United States.
In this unusually structured memoir, surgeon Naudé (Trauma Secrets, 1998) offers a broad retrospective of his immigrant experience. He divides it into two sections: one focused on his personal life and the other on his many strongly held opinions. He structures the second section as a series of dialogues among himself, his children and two invented characters, “liberal Sarah and right-wing Jack, loosely patterned on some of the children’s friends,” who provide context for the author’s views. The children ask questions that prompt Naudé to reminisce about his background as a white, Afrikaans-speaking South African, his medical training in South Africa and abroad, and his experience adjusting to the differences he found in the United States. Many anecdotes fall into somewhat familiar categories for immigrant literature, including language and dialect barriers; for instance, he learns that nurses in American hospitals aren’t called “sister” as they are in other countries. He also provides numerous prescriptions for what he sees as American culture’s faults, advocating punishing children for misbehaving instead of treating them for ADHD and ending affirmative action. On the whole, however, he looks positively on his decision to leave one country for another. His years in South Africa coincided with several decades of apartheid, which he touches on in the narrative (“It was one of the many instances where I, as a white South African, was acutely aware of the injustice of apartheid”) but doesn’t explore in depth. This isn’t a story of global politics, however, but a highly personal story of one man’s life. The book’s narrow focus may limit the book’s appeal, but it’s appropriate to the material and makes its dialogue structure a successful narrative technique.
An immigrant’s tale of life in South Africa and the United States that effectively draws on his day-to-day experiences and cultural views.