Peter Henry Abrahams (born 3 March 1919) is a South African novelist, journalist and political commentator. His father was from Ethiopia and his mother was classified by South Africa as a mixed race person, a “Kleurling” or Coloured. He was born in Vrededorp, near Johannesburg, but left South Africa in 1939. He worked first as a sailor, and then as a journalist in London. Hoping to make his way as a writer, he faced considerable challenges as a South African, as Carol Polsgrove has shown in her history, Ending British Rule: Writers in a Common Cause (2009). Despite a manuscript reader’s recommendation against publication, in 1942 Allen and Unwin brought out his Dark Testament, made up mostly of pieces he had carried with him from South Africa. Publisher Dorothy Crisp published his novels,Song of the City (1945) and Mine Boy (1946). According to Nigerian scholar Kolawole Ogungbesan, Mine Boy became “the first African novel written in English to attract international attention.”
More books followed with publication in Britain and the United States: two novels –The Path of Thunder (1948) and Wild Conquest (1950); a journalistic account of a return journey to Africa, Return to Goli (1953); and a memoir, Tell Freedom (1954). While in London, he lived with his wife, Daphne, at Loughton. He met several important black leaders and writers, including George Padmore, a leading figure in the Pan-African community there, Kwame Nkrumah of the Gold Coast and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, both later heads of state of their respective countries.
In 1956, Abrahams published a roman à clef about the political community of which he had been a part in London: A Wreath for Udomo. His main character, “Michael Udomo”, who returns from London to his African country to preside over its transformation into an independent, industrial nation, appeared to be modeled chiefly on Nkrumah with a hint of Kenyatta. Other identifiable fictionalized figures included George Padmore. The novel concluded with Udomo’s murder. Published the year before Nkrumah took the reins of independent Ghana, A Wreath for Udomo was not an optimistic forecast of Africa’s future. Abrahams settled in Jamaica in 1956.
One of South Africa’s most prominent writers, his work deals with political and social issues, especially with racism. His novel Mine Boy (1946), one of the first works to bring him to critical attention, and his memoir Tell Freedom (1954) deal in part with apartheid. His other works include the story collection Dark Testament (1942) and the novels The Path of Thunder (1948), A Wreath for Udomo (1956), A Night of Their Own (1965), the Jamaica-setThis Island Now (1966, the only one of his novels not set in Africa) and The View from Coyaba (1985). He also wrote This Island Now, which speaks to the ways power and money can change most people’s perspectives.
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