For almost forty years Nadine Gordimer has been publishing gallant and sensitive stories deploring the apartheid system in her native South Africa. Every book is received with respectful, almost ritual lamentations by London reviewers, reminded of the days of their youth - for the apartheid regime has a longer history than Nazi Germany or even Franco's Spain. One cannot admit to being bored with the problem but may wonder what else there is to say. In A Sport of Nature Miss Gordimer breaks out of the enclave with a novel about a Jewish girl who makes love to black Africans, travels around the world and returns to her homeland, 'the new African state that used to be South Africa', as the wife of the Chairman of the OAU (the Organisation of African Unity). This is an optimistic conclusion, perhaps a pipe-dream. The story is told in a rather hazy way, often as if a biographer was seeking to establish facts about a well-known person with mysterious gaps in her history, sometimes breaking into italics with gnomic utterances: 'Winter is burial ... What has been, what was, what will be: nobody else can decide ... ' Sometimes we are unsure what country Hillela, the heroine, is in. She does not talk much and she feels like a fantasy figure. Only the scenes in white-ruled South Africa are presented naturalistically. The lusus naturae of the title seems to be Hillela, not apartheid.
LRB 23 April 1987 | PDF Download