Nadine Gordimer 1923-
South African novelist, short story, nonfiction, and novella writer, essayist, and critic.
The following entry provides criticism on Gordimer's short fiction from 1994 through 2003. See also, Nadine Gordimer Criticism and CLC, Volumes 5, 7, 10, 17, 18 and 123.
The Nobel Prize-winning Gordimer explores the effects and aftermath of South Africa's apartheid system on both ruling whites and oppressed Blacks. Although the political conditions of apartheid, which were in place from 1948 until 1990, are essential to the themes of her work, Gordimer focuses primarily on the complex human tensions generated by those conditions. Lauded for her authentic portrayals of Black African culture, Gordimer is also praised for using precise detail to evoke both the physical landscape of South Africa and the human predicaments of a racially polarized society.
Gordimer was born on November 20, 1923, in Springs, South Africa, the daughter of Jewish emigrants, her father from Lithuania and her mother from England. Due to a heart ailment, Gordimer was withdrawn from school and restricted from normal childhood activity at a young age. She received occasional tutoring and read voraciously. She began to write in earnest as a response to the racial divisions she observed, publishing her first short story at fifteen. She briefly attended the University of the Witwatersrand, and in 1949 moved permanently to Johannesburg. By the early 1950s she had published two short story collections, Face to Face (1949) and The Soft Voice of the Serpent, and Other Stories (1952), and her first novel, The Lying Days (1953). Recognized by numerous literary awards and honorary degrees, Gordimer has received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the novel A Guest of Honour (1970), which many critics regard as her finest work; the Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction for the novel The Conservationist (1974); and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. She was the first South African writer, and the first woman writer in twenty-five years, to be awarded the Nobel. More recently, Gordimer's novel The Pickup (2001) received a Booker Prize nomination.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Gordimer's first stories were published in various American periodicals and were subsequently collected in her first major volume, The Soft Voice of the Serpent. Throughout her career as a short fiction writer, Gordimer has strived to portray individuals who struggle to avoid, confront, or change the conditions under which they live, in particular the repressive South African political system of apartheid. The short fiction included in A Soldier's Embrace (1980), for example, offers an ironic historical overview of South African society. In Something Out There (1984) Gordimer examines the temperament of individuals who unwittingly support the mechanisms of racial separation. Jump and Other Stories (1991) continues her exploration of how apartheid insulates the daily lives of Blacks and whites in South Africa. Her latest collection, Loot, and Other Stories (2003), reflects South Africa's transition to a post-apartheid society. These stories explore the new challenges and concerns of characters who are living through a turbulent and gripping time in South African history.
Although most critical studies of her work focus on her novels, Gordimer is viewed as an insightful and compelling short fiction writer. Many critics have noted a connection between the tone of Gordimer's fiction and the deterioration of race relations and escalation of violence in her country during the late 1960s. Her work is regarded by many commentators as a social history of South Africa and its changing conditions; she has often been praised for her delicate and perceptive treatment of controversial issues. Critics have traced in her recent work a transition to post-apartheid themes and characters struggling to adjust to changing political and social reality in South Africa—particularly the aftereffects of apartheid and the shifting dynamic of racial relations. Some reviewers have argued that her detached narrative voice lacks emotional immediacy and the lack of punctuation in her short stories makes her work difficult and unrewarding. Yet despite the criticisms, most commentators regard her fiction as powerful and commend her prose for its clarity and poetic elegance.