Early in his career, Jacobson wrote some distinguished short stories, and A Dance in the Sun, his second novel, like his first (The Trap, 1955), may be read as an extended short story. Its plot is composed of a single line, which resembles that of a mystery novel. (Why are the Fletchers afraid of Joseph? What is Joseph up to? What happened to Mary?) As in his short stories, Jacobson uses the physical setting—the hauntingly beautiful veldt and the prisonlike house filled with the relics and reminders of a past which is no longer relevant to the moral and social complexities of the country—to enhance the reader’s perception of the mental and emotional states of the characters.
After establishing himself as a distinguished writer of short stories and novels with South African settings, Jacobson wrote The Beginners (1966), a big, complicated family chronicle that summed up not only his own experience as a South African Jew but also that of South African Jewry in general. By that time, he had been living in England for more than a decade, convinced that the political and social problems of South Africa were beyond solution. Yet, though A Dance in the Sun could only have been written in South Africa and though its moral concerns are rooted in the reality of that country, Jacobson was more concerned with his characters than with South Africa’s social problems. Early in his career, when he wrote the novel, apartheid was in place in South Africa, but it was still not clear how permanent it would be. The tensions in the novel that give it much of its power are probably attributable to that sense of uncertainty in Jacobson’s mind when he wrote it.