I knew this book would be painful to read and it was. I think I was hoping that the book would offer up meangingful reasons for staying in South Afric...moreI knew this book would be painful to read and it was. I think I was hoping that the book would offer up meangingful reasons for staying in South Africa, rather than ways of coping.
Bloom offers up the chance to do something meaningful for a suffering society as one reason for staying, but it is hard to hold on to when the book presents one horrific, violent story after another.
I did feel that the writer resorted a little bit to the white oral tradition of the "crime anecdote". You can tell endless stories of crime in suburbia, and they are all horrific. There are also endless stories that could be told of crime in the townships, and they are horrifying too. But we know why the people in the townships stay. They have no choice. Theirs is not Bloom's story to tell.
At the same time, I think these stories really are all there is to tell. They are our stories and they are South Africa, and what else is there? You can't make anything more of situations like that. You either stay, and survive, or leave and survive. I can't see a higher moral or point to be made beyond the endless telling of these stories. There is just life, and carrying on with things.
I did feel uncomfortable that this was all seen from the point of view of why whites were staying or leaving. One of the reasons why I felt uncomfortable was that even the story of the xenophobic violence was drawn from the point of view of what it meant for white people in South Africa, and if it threatened them. Those incidents were terrible and they were terrible for the black people involved. That violence, that story, belongs to the black foreigners. I didn't like that it was colonised by white fear.
There is another thing about the book that makes me feel uncomfortable. The writer wonders why the murders of white people have been dominating the headlines, and he postulates a few ideas. But as far as I can see, the murder of white people always dominate the headlines, because white people still have the power and the money to make such cases high profile, the media still writes to a white-dominated audience that wants to read about white people, and when we get down to it, in South Africa, white lives still count more. Many white people have the power and the luxury to be afraid and to decide what to do about it. Mos township-dwellers live with powerlessness over their fear. But Bloom knows this and he does point it out, the fact that white people can afford to hire ex-military personnel as suburban security guards.
Overall, I think it is an excellent book, and I will keep it and read it again. It made me think, about my own reasons for wanting to go back to South Africa, and in the end my reasons are his reasons for staying. The place that made you who you are is home, even if it is a place that may not want you or be safe for you. (less)
I really enjoyed this, it was well written. I realised reading this that I know absolutely nothing about the history of Zimbabwe. My education was so...moreI really enjoyed this, it was well written. I realised reading this that I know absolutely nothing about the history of Zimbabwe. My education was so localised, we didn't even move much past the history of my province! So I learned a lot about Zimbabwe. The childhood aspects were very familiar to me. I grew up in much the same way, only in a city environment. The informal Apartheid style of living surprised me a bit, because I find that British people love to look down upon Apartheid, but things weren't much different in their colony. (less)
**spoiler alert** This book is stark, clinical, dry like a fossil. It is depressing. The main character is unlikeable. And yet it is brilliant in its...more**spoiler alert** This book is stark, clinical, dry like a fossil. It is depressing. The main character is unlikeable. And yet it is brilliant in its courage to tell the truth.
At first I had a lot of trouble accepting some of the plot developments. I found them unbelievable. The daughter chooses to marry the man who organised her rape. She chooses not to leave the country. I know in her place I would probably have wanted to leave the country like so many others. But now I think I understand her position. In order to be an "African" and belong in Africa, she is trading a lot - her Western sense of dignity and independence - all for the safety and security she needs to stay in South Africa.
Coetzee portrays the main character brutally honestly and many people in South Africa had a problem with that. Yes the main character could be termed "racist" if you like, but more truthfully he is alienated, alienated from a race from whom he was forced to live separately until recently, but also alienated from everybody. It was hard for the ANC to accept, but that is the way many white South Africans of the protagonist's generation (and younger) are. They are alienated. They have no problem with people face to face, but interaction is as if across the Grand Canyon.
Also this novel is about impotence. The main character defined himself through sex and through his affairs, and his sexuality and impending old age play on his mind greatly. His loss of sexual virility is also a symbol for white powerlessness in general, and old men's powerlessness in their loved one's lives. The protagonist has become impotent in every way in his life, and he needs to learn how to accept it and live within it.
It's a pity Coetzee was punished for being so honest. People complain that he made black South Africans look bad, I think he succeeded in making white South Africans look worse. He wrote about the darkness that lurks in everything in South Africa, but most people don't have the stomach for it. I don't blame him for leaving the country. But I hope people learn to face the truth and the darkness, because it's a very important part of what makes South Africans who we are.(less)
What an impressive first novel. It is so real and grounded. I enjoyed it far more than The Golden Notebook. This is one of the best books about white...moreWhat an impressive first novel. It is so real and grounded. I enjoyed it far more than The Golden Notebook. This is one of the best books about white life in Southern Africa that I have read. It seems pretty marginalised but it shouldn't be.(less)
I loved this book so much. I may be biased because I love Mandela by default of being South African. But the voice in this book is beautiful, exactly...moreI loved this book so much. I may be biased because I love Mandela by default of being South African. But the voice in this book is beautiful, exactly as I imagine him to be. Dignified, witty, gentle, as strong as iron. I might give it back to its rightful owners - my parents - one day.(less)