Alex La Guma

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La Guma, (Justin) Alex(ander) 1925–

A black South African novelist and short story writer, La Guma is an outspoken critic of apartheid. In his overriding concern to portray apartheid's moral injustice, La Guma depicts a violent urban landscape peopled by oppressed characters in generally hopeless situations. His later work has been progressively revolutionary. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

The Times Literary Supplement

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It is difficult to separate Alex La Guma's novel, And a Threefold Cord, from its author's life and the circumstances of its writing. One of the Coloured leaders against apartheid in Cape Town, where he was born, Mr. La Guma … wrote the book between two terms of imprisonment while under house arrest in 1963…. [The novel] is a restrained account of a few days in one family's life in the shanty slums on the outer fringes of Cape Town. The book has no overt message—save the simple one of its epigraph, from Ecclesiastes, which gives the work its title—yet it is impossible to read the description of death, birth, crime, tragedy and brutality in these lower depths of South Africa, of the maggot-infested rubbish-dump which is the children's favourite playground and of the incessant struggle to keep the crazy shacks standing against wind and rain, without saluting the valiant protest which is the author's life-work.

"Eastern Europe Speaking English," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1965; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3282, January 21, 1965, p. 52.∗

Lewis Nkosi

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What distinguishes La Guma's work is that it shows real people waging a bloody contest with the forces of oppression: they celebrate their few short moments of victory, credibly enough, in sex, cheap Cape wines and stupid fights with one another.

A Walk in the Night describes for us what happens to Michael Adonis, a Coloured boy thrown out of his job for talking back to a white foreman, and a supporting cast of thugs, derelicts, spivs and neurotic cops doomed for a certain term to walk the night. (p. 165)

Lewis Nkosi, "Annals of Apartheid," in New Statesman (© 1965 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXIX, No. 1768, January 29, 1965, pp. 164-65.∗

Gideon-Cyrus M. Mutiso

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A Walk in the Night is a representative novella and six short stories by Alex La Guma.

The novella, "A Walk in the Night," is set in the slums of Capetown where living and getting ahead are based on violence…. In "A Matter of Taste," La Guma explores the relationship between a white tramp who wants to go to America and two African railroad workers who are the ones who teach him the "trick" of jumping the train to travel to Cape Town to catch the ship. In the story, there are vivid details of how the Africans sublimate some of their knowledge of European culture which they cannot afford. "Blankets" is a story of deep anguish. Although the protagonist is near death because of a street stabbing, his origin and life are captured in his memories of dirty blankets…. It is not surprising that people of the slums who live in constant violence from the racist government and the brutal gangs find solace and enjoyment in boxing as in the "Gladiators," where the sport is almost a license to murder. A Walk in the Night documents the social conditions of the urban South African. (p. 217)

Gideon-Cyrus M. Mutiso, "O Shango! Uses of African Literature," in Social Education (copyright 1971, by the National Council for the Social Studies; reprinted with permission), Vol. 35, No. 2, February, 1971, pp. 213, 215-17.∗

The Times Literary Supplement

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In the Fog of the Season's End is best described as a novella, for it is short and confines itself almost entirely to one character....

(This entire section contains 224 words.)

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This is "Buke" Beukes, full-time underground organizer in Cape Town…. Mr La Guma does not pay much attention to exploring Beukes's psyche. He is defined by his actions, a type, a man of great integrity and real courage if little imagination. He organizes his cadre in the activity possible in police state countries: distributing pamphlets and helping to smuggle out of the country men prepared to topple the government by force.

Mr La Guma's prose is usually spare and deft. He tells it like it is, but is capable of using imagery imaginatively, and of illuminating his grim scene with wit and irony. He notes the callous signs that underline the horror of South African life: "Drive Carefully, Natives Crossing Ahead" and "For Children under sixteen and non-Whites". But his ear for dialogue is even more acute, recording sensitively the idioms and peculiarities of polyglot Cape Town, bringing alive one character, Tommy, by his speech alone.

Mr La Guma knows about the fog of autumn; let us hope he survives to write about the South African spring.

"Cape Autumn," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3685, October 20, 1972, p. 1245.

Angus Calder

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In the Fog of the Seasons' End reminds us that South Africa is not merely an 'issue', some abstract fixture to arrange in the liberal conscience; it is a complicated country full of living people and able to retain the love of those who suffer in it. The novel tells us chiefly about three men, two Coloured, one African, who work in a political organisation which, years after bans and arrests have driven all radical opposition underground, still distributes revolutionary leaflets and ferries volunteers out to train as guerrillas. The elegiac title is not misplaced….

No one is especially brave or particularly clever. Even the dedicated Beukes is essentially an average sensual man, always carrying with him the pyjamas, symbol of banal decency, wished upon him by the wife he yearns and fears for. Yet when every action is measured against the viciousness of police and the omnipresence of spies, even friendship becomes appallingly heroic.

The book is written with an exile's loving care for remembered life, for effects of summer light, for snatches of talk in the streets, for urban landscapes mouldy yet familiar. But as detail after detail builds up a very vivid background, simile after simile suggests the ceaseless violence of apartheid. There are passages where anger boils beyond the control of style, but these make the book's general restraint more impressive. Its imagery builds up a picture of man almost, but not quite, destroyed by himself….

There is, Mr La Guma thus convinces us, an incorruptible residue of human nature, scarred, pissed-on, battered, which has to fight, and will fight, to preserve itself, its heart's affections, those little decencies so despised by self-styled 'revolutionaries' who have always been free to take them for granted.

This book unequivocally sides with hurt people against the race-based class which hurts them. It is propaganda, and so it should be. But it is humane, careful and very moving; it is propaganda for the truth, a work of art.

Angus Calder, "Living Objects," in New Statesman (© 1972 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 84, No. 2172, November 3, 1972, p. 646.

David Rabkin

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La Guma is a committed opponent of the South African system of government, and his writings reflect this political stance. At the same time, they avoid the pitfalls of South African writing on the colour question, which Lewis Nkosi has accused of being 'journalistic fact parading outrageously as imaginative literature'. Nkosi considers that black South African writers have failed to satisfy the requirement of literature as a 'maker of values'. On the other hand, La Guma's novels, especially [In the Fog of the Season's End], would satisfy Dr. Gurr's request for 'Third World' writers who 'help us to change the world'. (p. 54)

A Walk in the Night is about crime, not politics. A robbery is planned, an innocent bystander is robbed and two murders are committed, one by the hero and one by the police. Yet these events are not the heart of the story, and their impact is muted, even casual. The cause of this effect is the limited subjectivity which La Guma imparts to his characters. The inhabitants of the slum live almost at the level of instinct, and their mental processes are minimal. Even Mike Adonis, the hero, is restricted to the simple emotions of anger, lust, truculence, and a dogged pride. La Guma's purpose is to enlarge our understanding, not of the characters, but of their situation. The basis of this situation is a power equation…. This power, to which the powerless hardly dare raise their eyes, defines the whole locus of the story. It is the external force from which the characters seek redemption. The form of their struggle is for the retention of their fundamental humanity, which is also the emotional centre of La Guma's writing. The characters are morally evaluated according to this minimal scale, each being tested how far he or she remains humane, in their instinctive self-defence.

The impact of the power imbalance cannot simply be resisted, however, for La Guma realizes that brutalization corrodes the moral faculties of the poor. Two distinct reactions on the part of the powerless can be noted in all his writings: that of the brutal gang leader who exerts an equivalent dominance over his fellow blacks, at once thug and lackey; and the self-assertive basically decent character, often a worker, who attempts to exercise a humane influence and preserve his residual dignity. These alternative reactions are present, though muted, in A Walk in the Night, in the petty crook Willie-Boy, and the hero Michael Adonis. In La Guma's later work they are more broadly drawn, as in Butcher Boy, who terrorizes the inhabitants of the prison in The Stone Country, and George Adams the quiet but courageous hero of the same novel.

La Guma is unsentimental about his characters, and acknowledges that a superior quality of reaction is usually the product of superior education, or of political experience. He distinguishes consistently between those who live parasitically off the slum people, and those whose work has given them a wider conception and extended standards of comparison. These standards may be crude, as in the case of Freda, in And A Threefold Cord, whose job as a domestic servant provides her with a simple comparison between her life and that of her employers. For the individual character, the capacity to understand the situation enables him better to resist it. (pp. 55-6)

In La Guma's novels, the characters reflect the situation of the society, enabling the reader to perceive more fully its moral dynamics. Moral action is defensive and passive, rather than active and assertive.

Although the primary function of the characters is to reflect the present reality, La Guma also employs a more symbolic approach to character. It is most clear with Joe, in A Walk in the Night, but can also be seen in 'Dronk 'Ria' and George Mostert in And A Threefold Cord, and Solly in The Stone Country…. As a representative of the earliest forebears of the Cape Coloured people, [Joe] speaks with the voice of the tribe: 'I'm your pal. A man's got a right to look after another man. Jesus, isn't we all people?' This instinctive force, which allows him to claim a right, is shown to be related, in a semimystical fashion, to his traditional closeness to the sea.

The white character, George Mostert, serves a similar function, in And A Threefold Cord. His isolation, his inability to form human relationships and his desperate clinging to an outmoded and crumbling petrol-station, is contrasted to the living warmth of the shanty-town community. George expresses the spiritual impoverishment of the whites and, schematically, their ultimate dependence on the blacks. La Guma uses this type of static character … to bring out the relatively unchanging aspects of the total situation which the novels illumine. In this way an historical dimension is added. (p. 56)

In the novels of Alex La Guma the physical setting is rigorously selected and meticulously drawn. The Stone Country, a loosely-knit narrative of prison life, is set in the stone and iron world of the prison, 'a small something of what they want to make the country'. (p. 57)

The effective creation of a physical setting is one of La Guma's characteristic technical strengths. It is one in which he remains close to the classical conceptions of the novelist's technique. Yet the function of La Guma's settings is not primarily to give verisimilitude to the moral progress of his characters. Nor is it to create … a 'totality of objects' through which the protagonist must struggle in order to gain an authentic sense of self. Because of the very character of the South African situation …, the material environment of the novels has a force and function of its own. It is thus akin to the function of place in the social novels of Dickens, where the Marshalsea, or Tom-All-Alone's, for example, exercise the moral function of major characters. The surface of slum life in an under-developed country differs from that of civil society, in being not a veneer, but the most direct expression of the quality of that life.

La Guma clearly sees the South African situation as being wholly conditioned by its social and political problems. Character is subordinated to the task of portraying the specifics of that situation, while the physical setting is so composed as to describe its material basis. Nevertheless, the function of character as the bearer of personal truth is not entirely negated; it is merely reduced, in accordance with the author's view of the situation. In his short stories, La Guma is able to give greater scope to the examination of personal experience. Even here, however, we find that political realities cannot be wholly excluded, although the balance between personal and social concerns can be varied. The substance of the story, 'A Glass of Wine', consists of the shy courtship of a young coloured girl by a white boy. The anguish of an adolescent relationship is thrown into relief by the drunken comments of an onlooker at the cafe where the lovers meet. The onlooker is hustled outside by his embarrassed friend, the narrator of the story, who tells him: 'You know that white boy can't marry the girl, even though he loves her. It isn't allowed.' Here La Guma is using the short story for the same ends as the novel. The point of the story is to demonstrate, in human terms, the content of the Immorality Act. The author's method is to use the typical device of the short story, the final twist which alters the context of the tale, and thus brings home the point.

In another of La Guma's stories, 'Out of Darkness',… the balance between the personal and the political is even more finely pitched. The love of a dark-skinned Coloured schoolteacher for a near-white girl, Cora, ends in murder. (pp. 57-8)

In these and other stories, La Guma examines the more fugitive repercussions of the South African reality upon the sensibilities of those who are part of it. (p. 59)

The moral action of La Guma's characters has been described as essentially defensive. There is evidence, however, that the author has found this method increasingly inadequate, and in the succession of his leading characters can be traced a development towards an outright political posture. Thus, while Mike Adonis is shown in moral retreat, from the dignity of a factory worker to the questionable status of a petty criminal, Charlie Pauls, in And A Threefold Cord, is an occasional worker, in whom the roots of class consciousness have taken a precarious hold…. In this train of development can be perceived the emergence of a technical obstacle derived from the author's hardening attitude to the reality which he confronts. It has become increasingly difficult for La Guma to allow to the fictional material itself the responsibility of political statement. In his most recent work the problem has become acute.

In the Fog of the Season's End differs in many respects from La Guma's earlier work. The subject matter is directly political, an account of underground activity…. More ambitious in scope than the earlier novels, it centres on two main characters, an African, Elias Tekwane, and a Coloured man, called Beukes. However, in this novel, character is the exhibition of alternative responses to the political situation. The rich variety of what La Guma earlier described as 'the human salad', is replaced by a set of typical figures: the frightened middle-class Coloured person, the worker who assists the political organizers, the simple people who help out of personal friendship, and the committed politicals themselves. Personal details are largely subordinated to this scheme. Where characters are provided with a personal history, its function is to illustrate how they came to adopt their present stance. The characters are necessarily static, since the author's concern is here not with the quality of their response, but with the actions that flow from the choices they have already made. The novel is permeated with a sense of a new era, a post-critical phase in which, with the battle lines already drawn, the action has become mechanical. Whatever one may think of La Guma's analysis of the political situation, it is clearly not one which will readily assist the novelist's art. Unlike the earlier novels, In the Fog of the Season's End gains little from La Guma's profound sense of atmosphere and locale.

The decisive transition which has been made in the writing of this novel, is the move from a concern to illuminate the moral character of the society through a delineation of its effects upon its members, to an illustration of the specific actions taken by those who represent the society, and those who oppose it. The book is about the play of pure forces. Since the vision of the principal characters is the vision of the author himself, no additional insight can be gained by refraction through their eyes. Thus the heuristic functions of the novel form become redundant. The technique of documentary will serve as well, indeed better, since the artifices of fiction obscure where they do not further clarify.

The writings of Alex La Guma, therefore, show a consistent departure from the typical procedures of the novel form, being concerned rather to illuminate the moral character of South African society, than to portray the personal and moral development of individual characters. In his latest work there appears to be a departure from the concerns best served by fiction as such. It has naturally affected the quality of the writer's artistry. Clearly a crisis has arisen in the relation between form and content. (pp. 59-61)

David Rabkin, "La Guma and Reality in South Africa" (copyright David Rabkin; by permission of Hans Zell Publishers, an imprint of K. G. Saur Verlag), in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. VIII, No. 1, June, 1973, pp. 54-61.

John Updike

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["In the Fog of the Season's End"] delivers, through its portrait of a few hunted blacks attempting to subvert the brutal regime of apartheid, a social protest reminiscent, in its closely detailed texture and level indignation, of Dreiser and Zola. (p. 84)

In Alex La Guma's novel of South Africa, white men are everywhere, "pink and smooth as strawberry jelly." They function as bosses, owners, policemen, and torturers. "In the Fog of the Season's End" has a setting … [thoroughly urban]. (p. 89)

Mr. La Guma is not … one to let his message slip by unnoticed, nor is his descriptive prose shy of insistence. Similes proliferate; at their best they quicken their referent … and at their worse smother it beneath a clumsy muchness…. The writing does, however, convey a jumbled, sweaty sensation not inappropriate to the subject—the human jungle the white man has imposed upon the South African black. And when La Guma's prose connects directly to outrage—as when Tekwane is tortured by two tweedy policemen, or when the maze of permits the police state has created is dramatized—the fuzz of overwriting burns away. As a thriller, "In the Fog of the Season's End" suffers not only from its chosen interweave of flashbacks but from a certain languid futility in its basic mission; the risk Beukes runs in distributing the leaflets seems far greater than any possible effect they can have. As political description, the book is less strident than its metaphors. The black population Beukes moves through is represented, in what appear to be fair proportions, as amused, threatened, or inspired by him and his cause. Personal friendship among these oppressed counts for more than political commitment…. In Chiolu and Aliakoro, there are no people you don't know. In a modern state, strangers are the rule…. Dragging its captive blacks in the ruck, the South African state has nevertheless dragged them into modernity, into the post-tribal impersonality that makes it necessary for the narrative artist to particularize every face. The need to describe, excessively felt in "In the Fog of the Season's End," arises when teller and listener no longer share a reality.

As protest, La Guma's cry from this particular underworld has a value that transcends its artistic faults—a special value, it may be, to Americans. For at this distance it is easy to be complacent or forgetful about South Africa…. (p. 90)

John Updike, "Shades of Black," in The New Yorker (© 1974 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLIV, No. 48, January 21, 1974, pp. 84-6, 89-94.∗

Leonard Kibera

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[In the Fog of the Season's End] marks a new and refreshing direction in South African literature. For in this novel the characters are no longer merely acted upon by events but are themselves acting, showing a marked determination to control their future through positive struggle. (p. 59)

La Guma is still as angry about apartheid as he was in his earlier works. But here the anger is carefully controlled and the self-pity that his characters indulged in A Walk in the Night is here absent. In that bitter work the oppressed of South Africa were capable only of turning their anger on themselves. Michael Adonis was caught without having done anything more to recognise the real enemy in practical terms than to kill a defenceless white man who had been exiled into the coloured community. Since mere bitterness is equivalent to blindness, the people in A Walk in the Night could only sink further into their futureless existence. In the Fog of the Season's End suggests that the South African black should not continue in this fashion and that the oppressed, wherever they may be, must be re-educated to examine what possibilities exist for leading more dignified lives in the future.

We have here at least a few people who are able to see beyond their immediate lot, beyond the fog, into those possibilities. In other words, a more mature type of character emerges who is able to think outside himself and to reason out the situation in South Africa pragmatically. (pp. 59-60)

[Precisely] because men like Beukes and Elias have consciously chosen to act, we do not find them sentimental about their own individual lives. (p. 60)

Beukes, Elias, Isaac and Henry April, these give us a view of the more positive characters in the novel. But there must be another angle to the movement or the whole thing would be too romantic. We must see something of those who do not care to be involved and why.

On the face of it Beatie Adams is irrelevant to the novel…. [In] the case of Beatie Adams perhaps it is more useful to look at her not so much as a woman but as one of the thousands of house servants on whom the regime thrives. The author is suggesting that it is only when people like Beatie Adams are involved in the struggle that real change can come. Their revolt would be far more frightening to their masters in immediate terms than the guerillas who go up north for training. And it seems tragic, La Guma implies, that those who are most exploited should be the least politically aware. Having so few rights Beatie Adams is all the more reluctant to part with what she has. Nothing should threaten the meager security a servant in her situation enjoys. This is precisely what Beukes is attempting to do by making her politically aware and through their conversation we can see how difficult that job can be. She has long forgotten that ugliness exists in the world and it is no accident that she makes a point of regularly going to the park with its 'forest of carefully-tended flowers' which give an aura of dignity and beauty to an undignified and cruel human landscape. She has also long accepted her own fate and is no longer uncomfortable with it. (pp. 63-4)

In spite of her ignorance, Beatie Adams emerges as a decent human being who makes the best of the situation that so limits her as honestly as possible.

But our next two characters deserve little sympathy. For coupled with their unawareness there is a moral weakness about Bennett and Tommy which degrades them somewhat as human beings.

As we meet him, Bennett has just been to the segregated beach where he had, by his own account, 'a helluva time.' A spineless middle class man, he is the harassed prisoner of his own wife…. If he fails to recognise his rights in his own house he is unlikely to recognise them in the society at large…. The point is that we cannot trust Bennett. Given his type of character we do not really need to know who, towards the end of the novel, betrays Beukes and Elias. It may not be Bennett. But it is quite enough to know that people like him exist. The problem here of course is that since this is a movement that has barely got off the ground and we are not able to see much of people like Bennett, we can only speculate. But Bennett suffers from too great a sense of self-preservation and he would be quite likely to tell on the movement in order to save his own skin.

Bothered as Bennett is, however, it is possible to argue that there is a slight complexity to his character. For his very indecisiveness is partly brought about by the fact that he genuinely worries about how his wife feels. No such issue arises in the case of Tommy who has little concern for anybody beyond himself. We acknowledge his loyalty to Beukes which makes an element of trust possible between them. But Tommy's total dedication to pleasure has turned him into a shallow person, at best a clown who acts primarily to entertain himself. Nothing should interfere with his hedonistic pursuits…. In terms of the struggle, which demands so much seriousness, Tommy's friendship with Beukes takes an ironical tone…. To live in reality is to live in a world where one is able to acknowledge that pain and suffering do exist. To Tommy any kind of awareness implies a painful effort and his whole life is dedicated to escaping that reality. He would never be capable of going through the kind of torture that Elias experiences. He would betray in a hurry precisely because he cannot afford to stay away too long from his 'tidy as an altar' radiogram and his collection of dance records. (pp. 64-5)

Tommy, Bennett, Beatie Adams, these give us a worthwhile angle and introduce a complexity to the struggle. However, it is the committed people that we remember and treasure. A few years ago when this novel was published in 1972 one would have thought La Guma's new sense of hope overly optimistic in the context of South Africa, and the picture of men like Elias unconvincing. But a good book sometimes grows with our own experience and we are only now catching up with La Guma's mature vision. These who have followed the recent political events of Southern Africa … will be convinced of this pragmatic vision. What La Guma is doing is to reinforce a basic historical truth; that in the end in Africa and elsewhere, the oppressed inevitably fight back at some point no matter how dim, or foggy, the future. It is this historical sense and La Guma's own awareness of the complexities of revolutionary commitment which make In the Fog of the Season's End a major achievement in African literature. (p. 66)

Leonard Kibera, "A Critical Appreciation of Alex La Guma's 'In the Fog of the Season's End'," in Busara, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1976, pp. 59-66.

Samuel Omo Asein

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[Alex La Guma's novels] tell a long continuous story of oppression, exploitation and dehumanization of blacks by a ruthless social machine.

La Guma's appraisal of the agony of South African blacks and coloureds is well represented in two suggestively dramatic and symbolic situations in And A Threefold Cord and The Stone Country, respectively, accounts of a fly trapped in a cup, and of a prison cat sadistically chasing a mouse. In the first, we are given an insight into the gruesome struggle against the stifling, almost elemental, force of apartheid. In the second, La Guma attempts to capture the life of haunted blacks as they enact their tragic drama against the parched background of "the stone country."… (p. 77)

La Guma's main success in [the passage about the cat and mouse] lies in the sympathetic relationship which is established between the prison inmates and the mouse in this symbolic confrontation with the prison cat. In the tripartite relationship which is thus established, the cat becomes synonymous with South Africa's authoritarian rule, while the mouse signifies the oppressed downtrodden black and coloured community in its desperate struggle for survival…. [The] point is that ultimately the common man will need to rise against the authority and assert his humanity and essence. George Adams' perceptive comment that "even a mouse (will turn) someday" reveals that latent revolutionary impulse in La Guma's leading characters which can be found in George Adams' defiant nobility, in Gus' and Morgan's fearsome courage in their abortive midnight escape bid in The Stone Country, and also in Elias' indomitable zeal in In the Fog of the Season's End. Even Michael Adonis' murder of Mr. Doughty in A Walk in the Night, as much as Charlie's instinctive but vengeful murder of the guard at the square in And A Threefold Cord, are manifestations in La Guma's fiction of the dormant rebelliousness which was to characterize his later creations.

In gradually building up self-assurance and a self-assertive urge in these characters, La Guma seeks to establish the basis for a radical ideological principle which is sustained in his four novels. From the probing precepts of A Walk in the Night to the assertive and compulsive ideological statement of In the Fog of the Season's End, a recognizable pattern of radical thought finally emerges. In his first novel, La Guma concerns himself primarily with the everyday reality and violent rhythm of life in District Six: racial injustice, the enigmatic nature of South African authority, the life style and human agony of the oppressed black population. (pp. 78-9)

The story in And A Threefold Cord is based on the premise that under the prevailing state of constant fear, uncertainty and insecurity such as that presented in A Walk in the Night, black South Africans, as well as the coloureds, can only survive the assault of apartheid by sheer force of will and collaborative efforts. (p. 79)

In The Stone Country, the scene shifts … to a typical South African prison. La Guma focuses on the commonplace experience of South African convicts who are locked up in cells for crimes ranging from "subversion" to murder. In the course of the action, we see George Adams, a political activist and first offender, engulfed in a strange and sensitively metallic country with its disorganized sects, heterogenous community of ideas, conviction, and criminal propensities. In spite of the characteristically factious way of life of the prisoners, we are nevertheless made aware of an operative code of conduct and a certain degree of solidarity which bind the group together. In this novel also, there exists a firm statement of the revolutionary ideology which is exemplified by George Adams' grounding in Marxist egalitarian ideas.

In his fourth and latest novel, In the Fog of the Season's End, La Guma further schematises the theme of revolt, which is his primary concern in The Stone Country…. Told in a series of flashbacks, the novel presents a grim account of the South African situation…. In the end we are enabled to take a long view of things to come as we stand beside Beukes on the threshold of a new dawn. The crackdown on the underground force, La Guma indicates, is a temporary setback. For although a disastrous blow has been struck at the backbone of the resistance, there is a strong indication that the task force will re-group and continue its fight against apartheid.

In the formulation of this militant ideological principle, La Guma presents four major protagonists whose performances reflect in a progressive order the changing phases of his own experiences and opinions as an activist: Michael Adonis, the evasive oppressed worker with his limited horizon of ideas; Charlie Pauls, the struggling and psychically battered product of the South African situation, striving towards political awareness; George Adams, the underground militant, politically motivated and extremely courageous in the firmness with which he bears the burden of a communal reformist cause; and the arch-militant Elias whose politically mature mind and clear-headedness endear him to us even after his death in the hands of South African prison guards.

There is an underlying ideological view which provides a link among these novels, that religion cannot solve the problem which faces the blacks in South Africa, nor will it alleviate the plight of the poor dispossessed members of that community. (pp. 79-81)

By the time we come to The Stone Country La Guma's groping protagonists have found a foothold in Marxist ideological principles. There is neither the apolitical, evasive introvert of A Walk in the Night nor the meditative and ideologically immature Charlie of And A Threefold Cord, whose only source of intellectual nourishment is the incidental "facktry" asides of his fellow workers. A new man of action emerges in George Adams, a communist underground worker who dares to talk back at white prison guards. (pp. 81-2)

The earlier novels prepare us for [Beukes' proclamation of revolution in In the Fog of the Season's End]. In the gradual formulation of a revolutionary strategy, emphasis is placed on violent confrontation as a means of neutralizing the force of the secret police and the establishment, and also of guaranteeing ultimate recognition of the essence of blacks in South Africa. The pervasive note then in La Guma's novels is not that of despair and flight into a protective world of political negativism, but that of hope in the eventual overthrow of the oppressive regime in South Africa. (p. 86)

Samuel Omo Asein, "The Revolutionary Vision in Alex La Guma's Novels" (a revision of a paper presented at the African Literature Seminar held under the auspices of the Department of English, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria on February 27, 1974), in PHYLON: The Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, 39 (copyright, 1978, by Atlanta University; reprinted by permission of PHYLON), Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, First Quarter (March, 1978), pp. 74-86.

David Dorsey

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[In Time of the Butcherbird] La Guma has again deftly constructed a novel whose action develops as a puzzle. Individuals are independently introduced, fleshed out with current concerns and flashback biographies and placed in the setting where they collide. The event which results is brief and final, but all that has preceded is needed either for explanation or evaluation of the denouement. An epilogue suggests the future of the survivors.

The oppression of blacks in a South African hamlet permeates the setting, offers a sketchy, unintegrated subordinate plot and motivates one character, whom we may identify with the proverbial butcherbird, "a hunter and smeller-out of sorcerers, because he impales insects." But most of the text is devoted to the world view of disparate, mean-spirited whites, hardly ever conscious of the kaffirs they abuse.

The elegant structure of montage and the focus on personal foibles dissipate the novel's intended moral force. Apartheid seems merely venal and insulting; revolt is symbolic, fruitless and even costless. The blacks are merely craven, rhetorical or vindictive; the whites more fit for pardon or pity than censure. The systemic iniquity seems what most of the characters assume it to be: immutable fact, unrelated to their own perceptions, values and choices. The one exception, the chief's sister, articulates little and achieves less. The analogous visionary in each of La Guma's earlier novels is confirmed by events and authorial design. Here, however, she is right but impotent and, worse, irrelevant.

Although written with La Guma's fine attention to details of suspense, characterization, instructive physical and social setting and illustrative, accusatory incident, Time of the Butcherbird lacks his usual cogent clarity of charge and condemnation.

David Dorsey, "South Africa: 'Time of the Butcherbird'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1980 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 54, No. 1, Winter, 1980, p. 162.


La Guma, Alex