Thursday, May 10, 2007


Genuine Human Frailties

I just finished reading July's People, a novel written by Nadine Gordimer in the midst of the South African civil war. Along with The Lying Days, written during the early stirrings of the liberation movement there, and Crimes of Conscience, written as the struggle came to fruition, it completes what for me is a profound trilogy spanning four decades of transition from fascism to democracy.

Probably more instructive in some respects than the autobiographies pertaining to this forty-year period of a four century conflict, Gordimer's novels expose the tensions within the European colonial community in dealing with an inhumane system in which even good-hearted liberals deprived the natives of basic human dignity. Perhaps most intriguing is Gordimer's ability to reveal the personal torment experienced by the settler population as a result of the disturbance of their established society, that not surprisingly took unexpected, horrible forms.

As someone who not only lived through the purging of the poison of state-sponsored terror, but also engaged the struggle at great personal risk, she allows us to see the sacrifices required in such social upheaval, as well as the shortcomings and disappointments that inevitably impact the participants. As a narrator unafraid of confronting these genuine human frailties, Gordimer presents an unvarnished view of the bittersweet experience of activism in the pursuit of justice that can serve to shield us, should we, as a society, someday choose to uphold the principles and practice of democracy here. I know of no author who has done it better.


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