Nadine Gordimer | Critical Review by Sylvia Clayton

This literature criticism consists of approximately 6 pages of analysis & critique of Nadine Gordimer.
This section contains 617 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Adrian Mitchell

SOURCE: "Pervaded by the Strangeness of Africa," in The New York Times Book Review, May 23, 1965, pp. 5, 47.

In the following excerpt, Mitchell focuses on Gordimer's narrative technique in Not for Publication.

It would be futile to look for a flowering of experimental writing among the fiction published about Africa today. The continent is dominated by race war and the state of the Republic of South Africa is such that it dictates a mood—and even a style—to those who try to write of it. Almost every public action in that country, and many private actions, too, add impetus to a revolution which seems as inevitable as anything in history.

Everyone who writes about Africa is affected by this shadow. In such a situation a novel is hard to make. A novel takes too much time to write, a novel takes too much time in which to unfold. Perhaps this is the reason why so much of the best writing about Africa, much of it conceived in exile, is poured into the short-story mold. With foreknowledge of the holocaust, these writers are like photographers whose city is doomed, urgently recording their last pictures of people and scenes which will be gone or transformed tomorrow.

There are masterly performers among them, with wildly dissimilar styles. Among the best is Nadine Gordimer, a writer with an enviable range of techniques. One of her most arresting methods is this: to concentrate the reader's attention on one particular moment, one gesture.

In her new and exhilarating collection of 16 stories [Not for Publication] this method can be seen at its best in "The African Magician." An apparently incompetent conjurer has been trying to entertain the white passengers on a liner. They demand that he demonstrate his hypnotic powers. Suddenly a girl, who is on her honeymoon, rises from her place and walks calmly to him:

She stood directly before him, quite still, her tall rounded shoulders drooping naturally and thrusting forward a little her head, that was raised to him, almost on a level with his own. He did not move; he did not gaze; his eyes blinked quietly. She put up her long arms and, standing just their length from him, brought her hands to rest on his shoulders. Her cropped head dropped before him to her chest.

This quarter-paragraph is far from typical of Miss Gordimer's style. But, placed at the pivot-point of the story, it is completely effective. There is an alien, translated quality about the sentences and a near-biblical, magical rhythm to the words. From this stylized description the author moves immediately to a description of the gesture in social, sexual, esthetic, religious and political terms. It is this passion to explore the hidden significance of a particular moment and this discovery of historical meaning in the movements of one girl which make Miss Gordimer's work so exciting.

In "Something for the Time Being" the central gesture—the decision by a newly-released political prisoner to wear his African National Congress badge—is more obvious, but the author's examination is just as subtle. In "The Pet" she ends her story of a man who feels kinship with no human being with the only action left to him—he throws a piece of bread to an unpleasant and hated dog. But although these stories have in common a welcome care for language, a controlled wit, a sense of the strangeness of Africa and a driving concern for its future, there is a healthy variety of tales. "Message in a Bottle," for instance, has no conventional plot. The outline of a thoroughly bad day, it works less like a story than like an Alexander Calder mobile, a pattern of isolated events revolving. But it works….

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This section contains 617 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Edith Milton