TIES OF BLOOD by Gillian Slove


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With autobiographical elements only lightly fictionalized, and with overt partisan political commitment, South African-born Slovo's latest (Death Comes Staccato, Death by Analysis, both 1988) reads more like an outline for a six-part TV docudrama (it comes in at 590 pp.) than like an imaginative piece of fiction. Set mainly in South Africa and England, and covering the period of the most intense struggles against apartheid almost up to the present, here is the stow of four generations of women, white and black; the men they love and marry; and their involvement as communists and members of the ANC. Riva, the matriarch, leaves Lithuania with her husband for a better life in South Africa. Their daughter, the headstrong and politically committed Julia, marries communist accountant Harry, and then their daughter, Rosa--brilliant, beautiful, and equally committed--in turn marries Jacob, a doctor and leading member of the South African Communist Party. Jacob and Rosa's two daughters--Rachel and Martha--raised in England when Rosa goes into exile, are initially ambivalent about their parents' political commitment, but, as the book ends, Martha, moved by Jacob's assassination, can no longer resist the ""ties of blood"" and heads off to teach at an ANC school. Meanwhile, the black Bopape family, headed by matriarch Evelyn, also live up to the reputation of their activist men--Nathaniel, Nathaniel's greatgrandson namesake, and Moses. The novel, given that Slovo's father is currently head of the South African Communist Party, and that her mother was a noted party activist killed (like the fictional Jacob) by a bomb, clearly reflects much of Slovo's personal history; but it also becomes narrowed in its historical canvas, mentioning few other anti-apartheid activists--of whom there were many--other than the long-suffering and noble Bopape family. Frequently pedestrian, even sloppy, in its writing, the stow moves along at a fast clip. Sometimes too fast, as Slovo, it seems, tries to write history as well as fiction. The anti-apartheid struggle is a noble and timely subject for a novel, but Slovo is not that novelist.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow