Nadine Gordimer | Critical Review by Rosemary Dinnage

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Nadine Gordimer.
This section contains 712 words
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Critical Review by Rosemary Dinnage

SOURCE: "In a Far-off Country," in Times Literary Supplement, September 9, 1994, p. 20.

In the following review, Dinnage outlines the narrative of None to Accompany Me.

For forty years Nadine Gordimer has been revealing to us the splendours and miseries of life in her extraordinary country; now in this latest novel [None to Accompany Me] she takes us through the dramatic and confused transitional period just before the establishment of South African majority rule.

The narrative (there is no "story" in the usual sense) centres on two couples, one white and one black, and parallel with the political events that carry them along, is an account of the vicissitudes of long marriages. Vera Stark (the name must indicate special endorsement for the character) has been married since the 1940s to Bennet. She has two secrets: their elder son may actually have been fathered by the husband she had lived with in a brief first marriage; and along the way, she has had an intense adulterous affair. As a lawyer she has been consistently involved over the years in the struggle for black freedom, while Bennet's role has been to run the business that supports the family. The other couple, Sibongile and Didymus Maqoma, have been even more deeply a part of the movement and have spent time in exile and in jail. Now, though, it is the wife, Sibongile, who has been chosen to help set up the new regime, and Didymus has to accept that he is an ex-hero. So in both couples there is a strong woman and relegated man.

As always, Gordimer impeccably exposes how the times they are living through affect every aspect of their lives. Vera can hardly bear the weight of Bennet's love, that it never changes: "It hasn't been taken up into other things. Children born, friends disappearing in exile, in prison, killings around us, the death of his father in the house, the whole country changing. It hasn't moved", she says in her exasperation to her son. Sibongile, on her side, has had to go through long periods of separation: "Parted so often; what happens in these partings, his, now hers, in the one who goes away? Is the one who left ever the one who comes back?" The comradeship of having to face violence and disruption together makes Vera closer to her black colleagues than to Bennet: she survives a physical assault with only a leg wound, while her friend Oupa dies slowly and excruciatingly from the complications of his own wound. The cruelty and injustice and punitiveness that are the background of their day-to-day lives are indicated at every point, simply taken for granted. Sibongile gets a letter telling her she is on a hit list. Bullets could come from a passing car, or through an open window; she has to go out of the house at unpredictable times, put out notes in case she never comes back, always leave things in place.

The politics of the time make new ethical dilemmas; Didymus's is that he once had to work in a camp for traitors to the movement. Terrible things were done there, and he had eventually managed to disengage himself. But the problem of keeping clean hands while opposing a soiled regime is one of the preoccupations of the group.

Vera gradually separates herself from her husband, who goes away on a visit from which, it becomes clear, he is not going to come back. The theme of woman alone, facing up to truth, finding herself (and so on) has become something of a current fictional cliché, and one feels a touch of disappointment here. But again it is the South African context that matters. It seems to be not so much Vera's past sexual secrets that dissolve the marriage, but the fact that she has been the active campaigner, going ahead alone. The marriage of Sibongile and Didymus remains close because, though they have been physically separated, as blacks they have to be together in their commitment. The question of whether South African whites can really belong on the continent is always implicit. But there are the splendours as well as the miseries of the country: dedication, sacrifice, heroism. In raddled, cynical Britain these come from a very long way off.

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This section contains 712 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Rosemary Dinnage
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