Nadine Gordimer: Revealed South Africa, under apartheid, to the world

Author Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer at the Goteborg Book Fair 2010 Original photo by Bengt Oberger CC By 3.0 via Creative Commons

Janet Samber eloquently described this author whose life’s work, like that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was dedicated to letting the world really understand what living under a repressive regime really was. All the while their books were being read abroad and helping instigate change, they were banned in their respective countries. Both authors stayed true to their cultural roots, remaining in their countries at cost and peril to their lives. 

With the death of Nadine Gordimer at age 90, on  July 13, 2014 in Johannesburg, the voice which had interpreted to the world the difficult realities of life in South Africa was silenced. Through her novels, short stories, essays and opinion pieces, Gordimer’s fierce intelligence and acute observational skills documented the toll apartheid took on those, both black and white, who lived under its restrictive racist rule. She said about her work, “Nothing that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.”

She produced a prodigious body of work, beginning her writing career at age nine, first publishing at age 15, and continuing to express her opinions on the state of South Africa through its political and social changes right to the end of her life. She acknowledges the importance of her environment in her writing as she says, “Your whole life you are really writing one book, which is an attempt to grasp the consciousness of your time and place – a single book written from the different stages of your ability.”

Her themes of injustice and of the cruelty of South Africa’s policy of apartheid, with its attendant expressive racist and censorship policies resonated to a world audience, as she was lauded and awarded prizes  including the Booker Prize for The Conservationist, 1974, and her crowning achievement, the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1991. While her achievements were recognized by the outside world, her books were being banned at home. Gordimer stated, “I am not a political person by nature. I don’t suppose if I had lived elsewhere, my writing would have reflected politics much, if at all.” However, live in South Africa she did and as a result, Gordimer has left a legacy of a huge body of work, 15 novels, 20 short story collections, 5 essay collections, and a collection of one act plays that give powerful and unsentimental witness to life during a repressive regime and to the problems encountered during post-apartheid times.

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