(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Lewis Nkosi

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 111 words.)

Gideon-Cyrus M. Mutiso

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 225 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 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...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Angus Calder

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 346 words.)

David Rabkin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1964 words.)

John Updike

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["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...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Leonard Kibera

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Samuel Omo Asein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 entire section is 1132 words.)

David Dorsey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 299 words.)