My Son’s Story

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When the respected black schoolteacher nicknamed Sonny leads his students into a demonstration, he commits himself to a course of action which has far-reaching consequences. His family soon realizes that his primary loyalty is no longer to them, but to the movement. They can accept this change, but when Sonny’s need for a friend and comrade who is part of the movement leads him to take a white mistress, the family begins to fall apart. His indifference, his deceit, and his hypocrisy cost him the respect of his wife and children and cause them to take very different paths in life. Ironically, Sonny’s love affair, which at first provides him with much-needed advice and emotional support, eventually costs him the trust of his party leaders, who realize that he has deceived them as well as his own family.

In MY SON’S STORY as in her other novels, Nadine Gordimer realistically reveals the results of choices which must be made in a repressive society. Although in many of her novels, such as the prizewinning A GUEST OF HONOR (1970), the protagonist is white, the pervading sense of tragedy is the same throughout her works. Centuries of oppression, distrust, and hatred, Gordimer believes, have left a heritage which affects every person in the society; and whatever progress is made, decent men like Sonny, who cannot refuse involvement in the movement, yet find themselves losing much and accomplishing little. The growing international esteem for Nadine Gordimer is based not only on her technical skill but also on her tough but sympathetic description of the lives of well-intentioned people in unjust societies.


Coles, Robert. “A Different Set of Rules.” The New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1991, 1, 20-21. A review of My Son’s Story emphasizing the radical questions that the novel raises about the conflict between the personal and the political, and in particular about the moral weaknesses of public figures.

Gordimer, Nadine. The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics, and Places. Edited by Stephen Clingman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. A collection of essays, written by Gordimer over a period of thirty years, examining her life and art, her convictions, her ideas, and her experiences. Their theme is how African and South African history and reality are the inescapable subject of writers such as her.

Gordimer, Nadine. Interview by Paul Gray and Bruce W. Nelan. Time 138, no. 15 (October 14, 1991): 91-92. An interview conducted after Gordimer won the Nobel Prize. Contains important statements about My Son’s Story.

Gordimer, Nadine. Interview by Peter Marchant, Judith Kitchen, and Stan Sanvel Rubin. The Ontario Review, no. 26 (Spring-Summer, 1987): 5-14. Gordimer answers a wide variety of questions raised by the three interviewers.

Packer, George. “Manifest Destiny.” The Nation 251, no. 21 (December 17, 1990): 777-780. A review of My Son’s Story focusing on how individuals must contend with choices and compromises forced upon them by a brutal regime.

Papineau, David. “Of Loyalty and Betrayal.” The Times Literary Supplement, no. 4565 (September 28-October 4, 1990): 1037. A review of My Son’s Story discussing the subjective tendency of Gordimer’s narrative technique, linking it to the author’s insistence on the imaginative rather than the political in her writing.

Parrinder, Patrick. “What His Father Gets Up To.” London Review of Books 12, no. 17 (September 13, 1990): 17-18. A review of My Son’s Story focusing on the question of the private realm in Gordimer’s novels.

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