Author Topic: Author Nadine Gordimer dead at 90  (Read 141 times)

0 Members and 0 Guests are viewing this topic.

Offline agate

  • Administrator
  • *****
  • Posts: 8218
  • MS diagnosed 1980
  • Location: Pacific Northwest
Author Nadine Gordimer dead at 90
« on: July 14, 2014, 02:37:56 pm »
Nadine Gordimer, whose fiction often dealt with South African apartheid, is dead at the age of 90. Excerpted from the New York Times (July 14, 2014):

Quote
Nadine Gordimer, Novelist Who Took On Apartheid, Is Dead at 90

By HELEN T. VERONGOS

Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer whose literary ambitions led her into the heart of apartheid to create a body of fiction that brought her a Nobel Prize in 1991, died on Sunday in Johannesburg. She was 90.

Her family announced her death in a statement.

Ms. Gordimer did not originally choose apartheid as her subject as a young writer, she said, but she found it impossible to dig deeply into South African life without striking repression. And once the Afrikaner nationalists came to power in 1948, the scaffolds of the apartheid system began to rise around her and could not be ignored.

“I am not a political person by nature,” Ms. Gordimer said years later. “I don’t suppose if I had lived elsewhere, my writing would have reflected politics much, if at all.”

But whether by accident of geography or literary searching, she found her themes in the injustices and cruelties of her country’s policies of racial division, and she left no quarter of South African society unexplored — from the hot, crowded cinder-block neighborhoods and tiny shebeens of the black townships to the poolside barbecues, hunting parties and sundowner cocktails of the white society.

Through Ms. Gordimer’s work, international readers learned the human effects of the “color bar” and the punishing laws that systematically sealed off each avenue of contact among races. Her books are rich with terror. In her stories the fear of the security forces pounding on the door in the middle of the night is real. Freedom is impossible; even the liberated political prisoner is immediately rearrested after experiencing the briefest illusion of returning to the world.

...

Ms. Gordimer was the author of more than two dozen works of fiction, including novels and collections of short stories in addition to personal and political essays and literary criticism. Her first book of stories, “Face to Face,” appeared in 1949, and her first novel, “The Lying Days,” in 1953. In 2010, she published “Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008," a weighty volume of her collected nonfiction.

Three of Ms. Gordimer’s books were banned in her own country at some point during the apartheid era — 1948 to 1994 — starting with her second novel, “A World of Strangers,” published in 1958. It concerns a young British man, newly arrived in South Africa, who discovers two distinct social planes that he cannot bridge: one in the black townships, to which one group of friends is relegated; the other in the white world of privilege, enjoyed by a handful of others he knows.

“A World of Strangers” was banned for 12 years and another novel, “The Late Bourgeois World” (1966), for 10 — long enough to be fatal to most books, Ms. Gordimer noted. “The Late Bourgeois World” deals with a woman who faces a difficult choice when her ex-husband, a traitor to the anti-apartheid resistance, commits suicide.

The third banned novel was one of her best-known, “Burger’s Daughter,” the story of the child of a family of revolutionaries who seeks her own way after her father becomes a martyr to the cause. It was unavailable in South Africa for only months rather than years after it was published in 1979, in part because by then its author was internationally known.

...

Her ability to slip inside a life completely different from her own took her beyond the borders of white and black to explore other cultures under the boot of apartheid. In the 1983 short story “A Chip of Glass Ruby,” she entered an Indian Muslim household, and in the novel “My Son’s Story” (1990), she wrote of a mixed-race character. She won the Booker Prize in 1974 for “The Conservationist,” which had a white male protagonist.

Long before the struggle against apartheid was won, some of her books looked ahead to its overthrow and a painful national rebirth. In"July’s People” (1981), a violent war for equality has come to the white suburbs, driving out the governing minority. In a reversal of roles, July, a black servant, brings his employers, a white family, to his isolated village, where he can protect them. In “A Sport of Nature” (1987), the white wife of an assassinated black leader becomes, with a new husband, the triumphant first lady of a country rising from the rubble of the old order.

Perhaps surprisingly Ms. Gordimer’s books were not the product of someone who had grown up in a household where the politics of race were discussed. Rather, Ms. Gordimer said, in her world, the minority whites lived among blacks “as people live in a forest among trees.”

It was not her country’s problems that set her to writing, she said. “On the contrary,” she wrote in an essay, “it was learning to write that sent me falling, falling through the surface of the South African way of life.”

Nadine Gordimer was born to Jewish immigrant parents on Nov. 20, 1923, in Springs, a mining town in a vast, largely rural area in the northeast now known as Gauteng (formerly part of the Transvaal). Her father, Isidore Gordimer, a watchmaker who had been driven by poverty to emigrate from Lithuania, eventually established his own jewelry store. Her mother, the former Nan Myers, had moved with her family from Britain and never stopped thinking of it as home.

...

Scholars and critics have found threads from Ms. Gordimer’s childhood running through her fiction. John Cooke, in his book “The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: Private Lives/Public Landscapes,” saw “the liberation of children from unusually possessive mothers” as a central theme in Ms. Gordimer’s work. In novel after novel, he wrote, “daughters learn that truly leaving ‘the mother’s house’ requires leaving ‘the house of the white race.' ”
...

In 1949 Ms. Gordimer married a dentist, Gerald Gavron, and they had a daughter, Oriane. The marriage ended in divorce in 1952. Two years later she married Reinhold H. Cassirer, an art dealer who had fled Nazi Germany and was a nephew of the philosopher Ernst Cassirer. Their son, Hugo, was born in 1955. Reinhold Cassirer died in 2001; her son and her daughter survive her.

...

She never wrote an autobiography. “Autobiography,” she said in 1963, “can’t be written until one is old, can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, can’t be sued for libel, or, worse, contradicted.”

She was, however, the subject of a 2005 biography, “No Cold Kitchen,” which drew wide attention not least for the bitter fallout she had with its young author, Ronald Suresh Roberts, a former Wall Street lawyer who had grown up in Trinidad. She had originally authorized the biography and granted him access, but she later withdrew the authorization, objecting to the manuscript and accusing the author of breach of trust. The publishers under contract for the book — Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the United States and Bloomsbury in Britain — declined to publish it. (Both also were publishers of Ms. Gordimer’s work.)

The biography was eventually published by a small South African house and was the talk of literary South Africa for its accusation that Ms. Gordimer had admitted to fabricating key elements in an autobiographical essay in The New Yorker in 1954. It also paints Ms. Gordimer as a hypocritical white liberal whose words masked a paternalistic attitude toward black South Africa.

When the Nobel committee awarded Ms. Gordimer the literature prize in 1991, it took note of her political activism but observed, “she does not permit this to encroach on her writings.”

That sentiment was one she said she clung to throughout her career. In 1975 she wrote in the introduction to her “Selected Stories”: “The tension between standing apart and being fully involved; that is what makes a writer. That is where we begin.”

In later interviews she said that no one could live in a society like South Africa’s and stay isolated from politics. Looking back, she told an interviewer in 1994, “The fact that my books were perceived as being so political was because I lived my life in this society that was so much changed by conflict, by political conflict, which of course in practical terms is human conflict.”

She never stopped grappling with politics, despite her disdain for the polemical. And book by book, she crept closer to reconciling her writing with her political self. What she did not want to do, she said, was to write in the service of the anti-apartheid movement, despite her deep contempt for the government system. Over time she revealed that she had been far from passive when politics touched her personally. She passed messages; hid friends, including high-ranking figures, who were trying to elude the police; and secretly drove others to the border. All these actions appear in her fiction, carried out by characters much braver than she portrayed herself to be.

The great victory, the end of apartheid, is not the end of the knotty moral problems those characters confront. In “None to Accompany Me,” published in 1994, the year Nelson Mandela was elected president in the country’s first fully democratic vote, one subplot concerns a black political exile, Didymus Maqoma, who comes home only to find that he has no place in the current struggle. Despite his sacrifices, he is overlooked by the post-revolutionary leaders in favor of his wife.

Reading Ms. Gordimer’s work is a reminder that the noose around South Africans tightened by increments, with ever stricter laws followed by correspondingly dimmer expectations. Critics have said that the tone of Ms. Gordimer’s writing fluctuated with the political climate, with an air of hope giving way to a sense of bleakness as racial violence gathered force.

Some of her most difficult moments came in the 1970s, when the black consciousness movement sought to exclude whites from the fight for majority rule. That period cut her off from many intellectuals and artists and left her work vulnerable to criticism from many black Africans, who contended that a white author could never authentically tell a story through the eyes of a black character.

Ms. Gordimer fought off that accusation, saying, “There are things that blacks know about whites that we don’t know about ourselves, that we conceal and don’t reveal in our relationships — and the other way about.”

In the end the government was too weak to enforce its laws while contending with armed opposition within and economic and political pressure from outside. In 1990, Mr. Mandela was released from prison; in 1991 apartheid laws were repealed, in 1993 a new Constitution was approved, and in 1994, the walls came tumbling down with the election.

During that exhilarating period, when Mr. Mandela’s African National Congress party regained legal standing, Ms. Gordimer, who had been a secret member, paid her dues in person and got a party card.

It was then, after the release of the man who would be president within a few years, that Ms. Gordimer won the Nobel Prize. “Mandela still doesn’t have a vote,” she said at the time.

Ms. Gordimer went on writing after apartheid, resisting the idea that its demise had deprived her of her great literary subject. It “makes a big difference in my life as a human being,” she said, “but it doesn’t really affect me in terms of my work, because it wasn’t apartheid that made me a writer, and it isn’t the end of apartheid that’s going to stop me.”
...

She ventured into an Arab country in her 2001 novel, “The Pickup,” and continued to write prolifically for years after apartheid became history. Politically, she eventually embraced other causes, among them the fight against the spread of the H.I.V. virus and AIDS in South Africa and a writers’ campaign against the country’s punishing secrecy law.

In the end, one of her greatest fears proved hollow. Although Ms. Gordimer was immensely gratified to receive the Nobel, its valedictory connotations led her to worry about what it said to the world about her future.

“When I won the Nobel Prize,” she said, “I didn’t want it to be seen as a wreath on my grave.”
MS Speaks--online for 13 years

SPMS, diagnosed 1980. Avonex 2001-2004. Copaxone 2007-2010.