A stellar roster, including five Nobelists—Gordimer, Grass, Oe, Marquez, and Saramago—offers 21 stories in a fundraising effort for HIV and AIDS in southern Africa.
Chinua Achebe’s “Sugar Baby” is a razor-edged retrospective look at one man’s inability to adjust to deprivation in the midst of protracted war. Margaret Atwood’s stunning “The Age of Lead” juxtaposes the narrator’s watching news reports about a sailor frozen on an ill-fated Arctic expedition with memories of her lifelong friend, bonded since their teens by a desire for a “life without consequences.” Now, Vincent is dead at 43 of “a mutated virus that didn’t even have a name yet”—the consequence of “things you don’t even know you’ve done.” In the powerful “The Ultimate Safari,” Gordimer’s narrator, a young girl in Mozambique whose mother has disappeared and whose father is in the war, flees with their [HER?] grandparents. They walk for days through Kruger Park, “a kind of whole country of animals—elephants, lions, jackals, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles”—to a refugee camp, where they live for more than two years, so long that the grandmother, whose husband disappeared on the trek, feels there is no home to return to. “Bulldog,” Arthur Miller’s straightforward Brooklyn coming-of-age story, revolves around a seductive woman selling puppies, while Njabule S. Ndebele’s heartbreaking “Death of a Son” chronicles the two weeks it takes for a young Johannesburg couple to get back their child’s body, killed when soldiers and police patrolling the township began shooting. Saramago’s “The Centaur” is the beautifully wrought parable of the last Centaur to survive, wandering for centuries until there is no longer a wilderness to hide in. John Updike’s ponderous “The Journey to the Dead,” about a man’s self-serving and increasingly awkward visits to a dying woman who was his ex-wife’s best friend, is one of the few clinkers.
By its nature more somber than not, a variety of voices with important stories. Tie-in with World AIDS Day December 1, 2004.