African Literary Queen Who Fought Evils of Apartheid; CRITIC'S CHOICE

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTIN CARTWRIGHT

LIVING IN HOPE AND HISTORY: NOTES FROM OUR CENTURY by Nadine Gordimer (Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]18.99)

VERY few people get to spend a lifetime hoping for a miracle and then find that history has come into line with their hopes. This has happened to Nadine Gordimer.

For very many years from her comfortable house in Johannesburg's suburbs, she hoped that one day the ANC would come to power and that the evils of apartheid would be banished.

All the while she was a loyal member of the party and subjected herself to its discipline in her public life. There are no clues in this book as to what this discipline entailed, but it is known that she was involved in some fairly dangerous missions, presumably message carrying and hiding fugitives.

Gordimer, however, is sensitive to the suggestion that her writing has been at the service of any one political party.

She has argued that as a citizen she carried out her clear duty, but that as a writer she was entirely free. 'There my commitment has been to make sense of life as I know it.'

These speeches and essays all allude in one way or another to the function of the writer in a distorted society at a particularly significant time in history.

In the international literary world, Nadine Gordimer is a very heavy hitter.

She finds herself in a unique position: a Nobel Prize winner who is as respected for her political fortitude as her writing.

As a consequence, she has spent a large amount of time discussing, with particular relevance to South Africa, the role of the writer in society.

THESE large issues, particularly in a society so obviously morally up the creek as South Africa was, play very well at literary conferences.

The disadvantage is that most of the speeches were delivered to audiences which accepted as a given that the promotion of African literature and identity are of the utmost importance. …