The Wanderers is a loosely plotted, autobiographical novel, in which author Ezekiel Mphahlele, through the protagonist Timi Tabane, continues the story of his life from the point at which his autobiography Down Second Avenue (1959) ends. Down Second Avenue describes Mphahlele’s years in the black townships and urban ghettos of South Africa, but The Wanderers concentrates on the period of exile in Nigeria and Kenya that followed his escape from South Africa in 1957.
Despite the obvious parallels between Mphahlele’s experience and the events portrayed in The Wanderers, the author calls this book a novel, and it has many fictional characteristics. The story is fragmented, including shifts in time and place as well as distinct narrators. Mphahlele also uses an odd mix of factual and fictional names; for example, he refers to Zambia and Zimbabwe but uses the name Iboyoru for Nigeria and Lao-Kiku for Kenya. Similarly, the magazine Drum, for which Mphahlele wrote in South Africa, becomes Bongo and its editor and publisher are given fictitious names, but the author Kofi Awoonor appears as himself. Timi Tabane clearly represents Mphahlele, but Tabane narrates only two of the novel’s four parts, and he is not even a central figure in some portions of the novel. Mphahlele himself argues that his artificial imposition of a beginning and an end marks his book as fiction. He is specifically referring to the fictional death of his son.
In The Wanderers, the death of Tabane’s son Felang, an African nationalist guerrilla who is captured by white farmers along the South African border and thrown to the crocodiles, functions as a frame, marking the opening and conclusion of the book. After the opening reference to Felang’s death, the narrative returns to recount Tabane’s last years in South Africa, where he lives in the slums of Tirong with his wife, Karabo, and writes for the magazine Bongo. In Tirong, he is introduced to Naledi Kubu, an attractive young black woman who is convinced...
(The entire section is 848 words.)