Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 309
Nadine Gordimer was a white South African author and activist opposed to apartheid, causing some of her works to be banned. Her novel My Son's Story is her ninth full-length work of fiction, published as apartheid was coming to an end. The novel has five main characters.
Sonny is a teacher, of mixed race or "Coloured" status, as the apartheid state classified those of both black and white ancestry. He is anti-apartheid and arrested and jailed for it. Feeling very isolated and lonely in his two years in a political prison, he has an affair with one of the few people he can talk to, a white woman who is a member of an international human rights group.
Aila is Sonny's wife, calm and without any temper. The police find a cache of weapons put in her house without her knowledge. She is forced to flee into exile in Lusaka, Zambia. There she divorces Sonny and marries a guerrilla fighter. She has become a revolutionary. The novel is split on whether this is by Aila's own choice, with her determined to not let Sonny dictate the course of her life, or because circumstances drove her to it.
Baby is Sonny and Aila's teenage daughter. She is angered enough by Sonny's affair to attempt suicide, and she later joins her mother in exile in Zambia.
Will is Sonny and Aila's teenage son. Sonny's affair leaves him alienated from his father and torn between his parents. He is named after William Shakespeare, narrates the story, and becomes a writer at the story's end.
Hannah Plowman is the human rights activist whom Sonny has an affair with. She is a white South African. Though she grows to love him, eventually she will leave Sonny and South Africa to work for the United Nations on refugee issues.