“To find out about my life. The truth. In the end. That’s all. ” Nadine Gordimer’s 11th novel heroine, Vera Stark, takes over the hearts of literary critiques as she goes through the course of transition taking place in post-apartheid South Africa – and in herself. “None to accompany me” is yet another Nadine Gordimer literary masterpiece that explores the dramatic effect of a country to an individual’s change on a personal level.
The novel opens with Vera’s infidelity to her first husband; and as the story advances and she ages, she assesses her life and gains a new perspective on her relationship with her second husband, Bennett. Meanwhile, she tries to understand her daughter’s case on being a lesbian and why her husband pretends not to notice. Here, we see her struggle with her private feelings while engaged in civic issues where she had difficulty dealing with “relationships for which there was no preexisting formula of hostility or friendship, suspicion or trust.
” Note that the novel takes place in post-apartheid South Africa – there’s been a radical change in social boundaries therefore, making it difficult to contend black interests. As Gordimer says, “When a railway line is abandoned, the tracks aren’t taken up. “; the railway referring to prejudiced white South Africans. Put in simpler terms, changing the law is one thing but changing the people’s attitude is another.
Being a wife and a mother, a political activist and a lover, Stark’s sensible and sensual character reflects the author’s to some degree. Even her course of life takes resemblance to Gordimer’s: Vera Stark, a graduate of legal studies, becomes head of a Legal Institution established as a “reaction against the blackness of the black community, fights back the system with its own tricks. She will become the living example of how the collapse of an old regime allows us perhaps to abandon our old self. Maybe abandon an old personal life, too.
Indeed, she will gradually see everything around her changing radically, and as consequences provoke other consequences, she will almost lose her life, after a murder attempt against her which will bring her face to face with the face of death, she will experience the fall of the frenzied racism monster as well as the transition towards a new regime with new supporters, ready like the others before them to be corrupted, the unjustified violence and the extreme poverty, she will revaluate her own existence, as a mother, as a companion and as a woman, she will watch her friends changing, she will be fascinated by the leader of the Black People and she will endure all these hardships with the stoicism of wisdom” (Nadine Gordimer on Vera Stark, “None to accompany me”); Likewise, Gordimer holds record for being a political activist throughout her lifetime and joined, as well as led, several organizations – both legal and illegal – that expressed her concerns on moral and racial issues, especially the apartheid in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the novel’s secondary characters put an intriguing twist to the story, somehow blending in whilst telling a story of their own: Vera’s second husband Bennet, a supposed sculptor downgraded to selling prestige luggage to provide for her; their son Ivan, a London banker, and their lesbian daughter, Annie, a South African doctor; Didymus and his wife Sibongile (Sally) Maqoma, Vera’s black friends who returned from exile after the apartheid; their lovely daughter Mpho, half-Zulu, half-Xhosa, whose been raised in London; Vera’s co-worker Oupa, former prisoner on Robber Island, who has big hopes and plans for South Africa; and Zeph Rapulana, one of the new black men with the skills and personal power to help makes such dreams come true. Gordimer’s portrayal of each minor character’s image was brief but delightfully vivid. Also, despite being the lead character in the novel, two lives are actually examined throughout – besides Stark’s, there’s Sally Maqona. After returning to South Africa from exile, she and her husband were received as heroes, for being part of the principal revolutionaries during the apartheid.
However, an unexpected exchange in roles between the couple happened: Didymus, the male, was set aside the big picture for being a traditionalist whereas Sibongile, his wife, was selected to join high-profile politicians as she was regarded as one of the intellects and the most suitable to represent the new South Africa. Gordimer smoothly showed how these separate lives worked out – how both women – and their husbands – are involved in taking down the apartheid system, and at the same time, how they handled more personal issues: a teen daughter’s pregnancy, the death of a co-worker, a son’s divorce, their own marital commitment, new employment and shifting friendships. All these are set in a growing complex political entity wherein each individual must somehow fit or adjust their identity. “Is there ever a really fair division of labour, as you call it, between couples?
” Vera’s daughter, Annie, asks her. Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the novel itself but then again, it’s uncertain – will it be a yes or a no? Traditionally, so to speak, men take over positions dominating women. In this case however, one might find it amusing that it is the females holding the so-called ‘superior’ position – instead of her husband, Sally is voted to preside over the board and even Vera has taken a seat amongst high-ranking officials. Moreover, I find it noteworthy to mention Vera’s alacritous acceptance of her daughter’s homosexuality – at one part, she defends the merits of the male genitalia to her newly announced lesbian daughter.
With such circumstances at hand, one wonders whether this novel was written to be intentionally inclined to feministic views or it’s just how it was meant to go. Nonetheless, this has nothing to do with Gordimer; in point of fact, she’s against sexism, racism, and the like as evident from her reactions in real life encounters. As to the novel’s setting, Gordimer’s ardent description of the South African post-apartheid is written in such a way as if meant to bring the reader inside the story itself. She highlights South Africa’s torment from racial discrimination and social division – a glimpse of its ‘heterotopia’. Through Gordimer, one can not only see the narrative illustration presented but feel it, too, through the characters. It’s even more intense than reading a newspaper headliner, so to say.
There’s no wonder Gordimer was able to come up with an excellent novel: she has ever since been a political activist in South Africa, expressing her thoughts through outstanding literary pieces concerning relevant issues facing the locals, and even being active in the anti-apartheid movement – she joined the African National Congress during the days when it was still illegal. Her works dealt greatly with political issues, especially those of her own country, and love entwined with the lives of ordinary people. She’s won various awards through the decades including the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature because her contribution is, in the words of Alfred Nobel, “of very great benefit to humanity”.
All of her works are based from her own personal record, being one articulate witness of the contemporary world her country’s in, with a hinge of imagination – reality and fiction combined. With “None to accompany me”, Nadine Gordimer certainly outdid herself this time – a recollection of her previous notable works combined with a near-perfect replica of her own private life and personal beliefs on the inadequate development of her country: analphabetism and semi-alphabetism, poverty, racism, and the transition from the racist regime to the democratic state among others. Further additional concepts she used cover spatial control as a mark of repression and as an emphasis of political resistance, and a vague reference on South African urbanization.
This particular flair of hers is quite remarkable, Gordimer is one of the few capable of delivering a composition where realpolitik meets the inner self – it’s complex, intense, intriguing, and definitely fascinating. Regardless of recent reviews saying that her style of unfolding the narrative is more urgent compared to her earlier pieces, they commend her for keeping the ‘magic’ still. Her narrative form is unique to her – she does it with sophistication and boldness; she writes what is there and she writes it with utmost comprehension and solemnity. Down to the last word, this read will leave you in awe. “It is not enough for someone to say that he is a writer. He must do what he can! ”, so she says. The new South Africa that is evolving right now is coming to terms with the various repressions and discriminations it did in the past.
South Africa is now freeing itself from the vestiges of apartheid and at the same time unmasking apartheid as it takes in different forms not only in society but in the hearts of its citizens. While apartheid is now officially denounced, there are still traces of it in many of its structures and apartheid still exists in the internal structures of culture and individual consciousness. One must be able to weed out apartheid inside one’s own heart even if the mind says you have already rid of it conceptually. There are practices and bad habits that are hard to break. Apartheid still exists in subliminal forms. The true affirmation and sense of self worth still needs to be developed.
Collective empowerment still needs to be done on the structural level. This means poverty eradication, women empowerment, literacy programs, and economic programs that would provide labor and a genuine sense of self worth. In the area of economics, there should be access to opportunity and privilege not only for the white and the rich but also for the majority poor and the black. In the political level, the voice of the majority still needs to be heard and well represented. In the area of culture, there still needs to be a radical break from the past and a birth of a totally new culture that would define South Africa on a new level of its accomplishments and not its sins from the past.
Courtney from Study Moose
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