Nadine Gordimer’s latest novel of South African political life explores once again relations between politics and the way people conduct their personal lives. Set in the period between the release of Nelson Mandela and the elections that made him South Africa’s president, it parallels two families, the Starks and the Maqomas. Vera Stark, the novel’s central character, is a lawyer for the Legal Foundation, and her success in settling black Africans’ land claims leads to a seat on the important Technical Committee on Constitutional Issues. For her, politics is like art—transcendent—leading to estrangement from her husband, Ben; her lesbian daughter, Annie; and her son, Ivan. Two arresting images, one of Vera dancing alone in an empty house, the other of her gazing into the cold, clear night sky, emphasize the existential isolation she chooses.
Sibongile Maqoma’s rise to political prominence is even more spectacular than Vera’s, but she remains with her husband, Didymus, in spite of the strains caused by his political eclipse and her rise.
Around these parallel stories, Gordimer weaves the complex, shifting, volatile political fabric of South Africa’s perilous state: terrorist violence by both whites and blacks, crime, competing land claims and the dangers they entail, and the country’s pervasive racial tensions. The most compelling of these are the pictures of the country’s acute housing shortage—the ramshackle villages,...
(The entire section is 418 words.)