None to Accompany Me (Magill Book Reviews)
Nadine Gordimer’s latest novel of South African political life explores once again relations between politics and the way people conduct their personal lives. Set in the period between the release of Nelson Mandela and the elections that made him South Africa’s president, it parallels two families, the Starks and the Maqomas. Vera Stark, the novel’s central character, is a lawyer for the Legal Foundation, and her success in settling black Africans’ land claims leads to a seat on the important Technical Committee on Constitutional Issues. For her, politics is like art—transcendent—leading to estrangement from her husband, Ben; her lesbian daughter, Annie; and her son, Ivan. Two arresting images, one of Vera dancing alone in an empty house, the other of her gazing into the cold, clear night sky, emphasize the existential isolation she chooses.
Sibongile Maqoma’s rise to political prominence is even more spectacular than Vera’s, but she remains with her husband, Didymus, in spite of the strains caused by his political eclipse and her rise.
Around these parallel stories, Gordimer weaves the complex, shifting, volatile political fabric of South Africa’s perilous state: terrorist violence by both whites and blacks, crime, competing land claims and the dangers they entail, and the country’s pervasive racial tensions. The most compelling of these are the pictures of the country’s acute housing shortage—the ramshackle villages,...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
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None to Accompany Me (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In A Sport of Nature (1987), Nadine Gordimer imagined an almost magically peaceful end to South Africa’s years of racial and political turmoil. In that novel, she concluded with a massive rally and celebration as power was transferred from whites to blacks, and a freely elected majority president took his oath of office. This was a poetic fancy, not a political prediction, but perhaps it was not far off the mark after all. In spite of last-minute terrorism, brutal intertribal violence, and grisly “necklacing” of “traitors,” the transition to majority rule in South Africa has been surprisingly peaceful and orderly. At a time when North Americans are nastily cynical about politicians and the system they represent, the images of South African blacks waiting patiently in line for hours to cast their ballots in free elections remain a potent reminder of the power of democracy.
None to Accompany Me takes a step backward in time, to the transition between the release of Nelson Mandela and the elections that brought him to power. It is a difficult period, marred by wrenching changes and punctuated by senseless violence—a time when exiled leaders and guerrilla fighters are returning to claim their place in the new regime, when new political alliances are forming and former enemies are learning to trust or at least live with one another. Above all, it is the triumphant time of the diplomat, bureaucrat, and lawyer, those gray and...
(The entire section is 1644 words.)