Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Gordimer's latest a heart-breaker
Nadine Gordimer, now 88, has for decades been one of the best known literary voices of South Africa.
A 1991 Nobel laureate and winner of numerous other prizes for literary fiction, Gordimer has a love for that beautiful and conflicted country that prevails despite its many flaws and contradictions.
And she doesn't fail us in her newest novel, set in post-apartheid South Africa and centred on a mixed race couple.
No Time Like the Present presents a bleak view of the trials and tribulations of the new South Africa. Steve is white and the son of a Jewish mother and Christian father. He is married to Jubilile, a black woman from Kwa-Zulu.
Jubilile is the favourite of her father, who sent her to Swaziland to study during the final years of the old South Africa. Both she and Steve fought in "the Struggle," a reference to the African National Congress's long war within and without South Africa that finally ended peacefully in 1993 with the election of Nelson Mandela.
They have two children, a close-knit group of friends from their days in Swaziland, and new careers; all of these intersect as they struggle to make sense of the history being created around them.
There are many contradictions in this novel, as in the new South Africa itself. A female relative from Jubilile's hometown comes to live with them -- not as a maid as would be the case in the old days, but as what? She chooses to live outside in a makeshift dwelling, glaringly reminiscent of the maid's quarters in apartheid South Africa.
A gay friend falls in love with a woman and unsettles his community of gay men who live in an arrangement called the Dolphins, reflective in part of their swimming pool that serves as a gathering place.
Gordimer's prose style is sparse and at times difficult to read. She does not use quotation marks to set off dialogue, as many writers don't these days, and her sentences tend to run on with loose punctuation, not unlike those of Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, at times making it hard to understand what she is describing.
There is a chilling lack of passion in her words but this in turn highlights the harshness of the choices her characters have to make.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this book for the non-South African reader is the political thread that runs its length and breadth.
If you have not kept up with the recent history of the ANC and its leaders and detractors, you may find the references to politics and political scandals confusing and distracting from the essence of a story of love and loss, choices and commitments.
However, those who know the subject well, or are willing to make the effort, will find that No Time Like the Present will break their hearts.
Anne Katz is a Winnipeg nurse, writer and former South African.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 J10
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