“All claims of natural feeling are over-ridden by a line in a statute book that takes no account of humanness…” (from Occasion for Loving, 1963).
South African novelist and short story writer Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923 in Springs, Transvaal, South Africa to Isidore and Nan Gordimer. She has one child from a first marriage to Gerald Gavronsky that ended in divorce in 1952, and another child from her deceased second husband, Reinhold Cassirer. From her earliest years, the author saw the white minority gradually usurp the rights of the black majority. Often kept at home by her mother for a suspected heart murmur, her first short story, Come Again Tomorrow, appeared in Forum when she was only fourteen. Though she had few friends, she did have access to the local public library, which was closed to the black population. She attended a convent school and spent a year at Witwatersrand University. By her late twenties, Gordimer’s works appeared in several magazines including the New Yorker.
The author won international recognition for her early novels and short stories including Occasion for Loving (1963), The Late Bourgeois World (1966), The Conservationist (1974), and Burger’s Daughter (1979). Through the years her themes have included master-servant relations, the evils of colonialism and the hollow liberalism of most South African white society. She has lived primarily in Johannesburg since 1948, but taught in American universities during the sixties and seventies, written some nonfiction, and has made television documentaries covering South African events.
Considered to be one of apartheid’s most vocal critics, Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize for her anti-apartheid fiction in 1991. A lifelong friend of Nelson Mandella, she humbly acknowledges her role and that of her late husband’s in destroying the old regime by sheltering persecuted rebels and bringing their freedom struggles to the attention of the world. “One became an accomplished liar.” A long time member of the African National Congress, Gordimer considers herself a socialist rather than a Marxist. Though regarded as the “matriarch of letters on the African continent,” some view her as antifeminist for her 1998 refusal of the Orange Prize (awarded to women only) for The House Gun. Her belief in the writer’s gift of creativity as something beyond the limitations of age and gender was the reason for her non-acceptance of the award. Get a Life (2005), a later work, finds her expanding beyond earlier political and personal themes of a racially integrated South Africa and exposing the environmental “desecration” caused by neglect, as rebels concentrated all their efforts on ending apartheid.
Some readers say Nadine Gordimer is the “conscience” of her homeland. This idea is particularly evident in her fiction which narrates stories of ordinary people making moral choices involving love, politics, and power within a racially divided country. Though her works are challenging, they are worth the effort. We all struggle with difficult issues regardless of where we live, and it is often encouraging to discover how others resolve their problems.
Below is a list of Nadine Gordimer’s books owned by the St. Charles Public Library.
Beethoven Was One–Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories (2007) *
Get a Life (2005)
Loot, and Other Stories (2003)
The Pickup (2002) *only
The House Gun (1998)
None to Accompany Me (1994)
Jump and Other Stories (1991)
My Son’s Story (1990)
A Sport of Nature (1987)
July’s People (1981)
Burger’s Daughter (1979)
A Guest of Honour (1970)
The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places(1988)