Sterling collection of short stories, 38 in all, by the South African Nobelist.
Gordimer (Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008, 2010, etc.) has been writing for more than 60 years now, but her concerns have been constant: race, justice, the South African land. In a typical story, the landscape is austere, tough and unforgiving, just the sort of thing to bring out the best in a few hardy people, but calculated to wear down the spirits of most others. So it is that in the opening piece, a young couple, he confined to a wheelchair, go out to take the air in the garden just in time for a swarm of locusts to descend; tending to one that somehow has lost a leg, they find their situations in odd parallel (“being in the same boat,” Gordimer writes, “absolved him from responsibility or pity”). The world is not a place where much pity is to be found, as a country fellow discovers among his city brethren, come there to reclaim the body of his deceased brother, only to be confronted with the curious fact that something called a postmortem has been conducted. And then—well, says one friendly overseer in those days of apartheid, “You can’t go to fetch your brother. They’ve done it already—they’ve buried him, you understand?” No, he does not understand, as so many of Gordimer’s characters talk past each other, not quite acknowledging the other’s humanity. Some of the stories clearly date to the early days of resistance to apartheid, politically charged and with passing references to the first stirrings of the African National Congress; others take place in the thick of the battle for justice, amid “beer-serious conversations about the possibility of the end of the world.” Four of the stories are new, an added pleasure for admirers of Gordimer’s work.
A welcome collection by a master of English prose—lucid and precisely written, if often bringing news only of disappointment, fear and loss.