Ronald Harwood Robert Pick - Essay

Robert Pick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

When Alan Paton published "Cry, the Beloved Country" thirteen years ago, he called it a "story of comfort in desolation." There is small comfort in [George Washington September, Sir!], the present novel about apartheid. The desolation of the urbanized South African natives appears to have grown with their growing loss of naïveté; lasting degradation has only served to sharpen sensitivity. Nor has the wretchedness of their status blunted the urgency of their human needs. This, at least, is the picture that emerges from Ronald Harwood's book, his first novel….

Mr. Harwood, who shows himself a very skillful writer, does justice to the complexity, as well as the honesty, of his engaging hero. If one considers the limitations of George's idiom, the powerful pertinence of his account is nothing short of amazing. And so is its sustained suspense. Not until well along in the narrative does one realize that Jannie, a colored brothel keeper who approaches the boy after his first brush with the police, plies him with drink and money and offers him Nancy, a beautiful Zulu girl, has more in mind than using the two young people as models for the pornographic photos he sells to "Europeans." The sordid frame-up that follows, and the tragedy that engulfs George—a tragedy born in the fear that rules his land—are fully convincing.

The way the author finally leads his much-tried protagonist out of his inner conflict is too adroit to be persuasive. It is a false note; but it comes at the very end, too late to spoil a poignant and, at the very least, most readable novel.

Robert Pick, "Tragedy Born of Fear," in The New York Times Book Review, September 10, 1961, p. 52.