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A Sport of Nature

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  583 ratings  ·  60 reviews
After being abandoned by her mother, Hillela was pushed onto relatives where she was taught social graces. But when she betrayed her position as surrogate daughter, she was cast adrift. Later she fell into a heroic role in the overthrow of apartheid.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published 1988 by Penguin (first published 1987)
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Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Sport of Nature is a fictional history of the end of Apartheid . It is the story of a white Jewish privileged girl who is abandoned by her parents and brought up by her aunts. She doesn't fit in with her her up tight Aunt Olga or her liberal do gooder ,Aunt, Pauline.
At about age 16 or 17 Hillela is discovered in her cousin's bed. From this point, she uproots herself totally from her family and becomes "The Sport of Nature," a spontaneous mutation.
It is the 60's,70's even the 80's Hillella is
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Good gawd. Her writing is like nothing else--intense, intuitive, and challenging, both in style and content. It was such a rush for me to read Gordimer again; her passion for her country (South Africa) and it's liberation is infectious--she is not preachy but an incredibly intelligent and fluent observer and guide to the political pulse in not just S.A. but all of Africa. Written in the 80's, but covering the late 50's to early 80's. She's a genius and doesn't make the reader feel dumb. I can't ...more
Aug 04, 2014 rated it liked it
A Sport of Nature by Nadine Gordimer recounts the life a white Jewish girl named Hillela whose mother abandoned her as a child, who was raised by two aunts, who ran away from a middle-class South African life and became, through sundry love affairs, the widow of a black South African revolutionary and the wife of a successful president in a country (not named) neighboring South Africa.
The concept here is that a “sport of nature” is an aberration, perhaps a felicitous aberration, and that Hille
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read "A Sport of Nature" as a meditation on dissidence; an exploration of whether and how a person can survive under a repressive regime and retain some level of integrity. Almost all of the main characters are portrayed in some form of reaction or relationship to the apartheid regime -- protest, escape, exile, determined ignorance, collusion -- and the reader is invited to exercise his/her judgement as to whether they have achieved anything praiseworthy, notable or even just acceptable as a r ...more
Julie Christine
I wanted to like this more than I did. It tells the story of a white South African woman, Hillela, coming of age in the 60's in S.A., and follows her life journey through other African nations and Europe. The first third of the book was great, the middle third was all narrative and by the end I didn't care anymore about Hillela or what happened to her.
The beauty of the book was the way Gordimer presented South Africa and made more clear the context- a time of tremendous social change throughout
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
You sense Nadine Gordimer somewhat admires her protagonist, the colorblind, social-climbing iconoclast Hillela who rises in World Politics just as South Africa's apartheid is being overthrown. But this Machiavellian blonde is also a soulless egoist who could've just as easily aligned herself with a tyrant as a national hero. I admired the historic scope of "A Sport of Nature" but found its mythic heroine an irritant. Kind of a flop. ...more
Jim Grimsley
Jun 05, 2021 rated it liked it
Gordimer is well established and has no need of another fan, which is a good thing, because I am not quite one. This is the third of her novels that I have read, if memory serves, though the others were decades ago. She is an extraordinarily accomplished stylist though there are occasional passages that struck my ear as clumsy. She has a habit of remarking repeatedly on her protagonist's breasts, which are apparently quite fine; were this the book of a male writer I would mock that a bit. In her ...more
Arnie Kahn
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This has to be one of my favorite books. I am in awe of Gordimer, what she has tackled, and what has pulled off: A history of black nationalism in South Africa through the eyes of a white Jewish girl/woman from adolescence to her marriages to two black leaders to middle age. I'm going to copy another Goodread review that says it better than I can.

"Good gawd. Her writing is like nothing else--intense, intuitive, and challenging, both in style and content. It was such a rush for me to read Gordime
Carol Harrison
May 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
Couldn’t finish this book and finally called it quits at about the 3/4 mark. Too confusing, too many unexplained acronyms and references to people who may or may not have appeared before in the story. And too much whispering about Hillela and what she would do or think, or how she would be thought of, in the future. I’ve read a few of Nadine Gordimer’s other books and enjoyed them, but this one just didn’t do it for me!
I'd define 'overwritten' with this book. Gordimer covers similar territories - although this novel in question seems a tad more aggrandized - in Burger's Daughter, and she does it there in a smaller, more powerful canvas. Interestingly enough, the protagonists of BD appear within these pages as throwaway references. ...more
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Politically and psychologically complex. Also, intellectually challenging. The writing style could be difficult for someone (like me) whose native language is not English, but it is so worth the effort.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
I lied. I didn’t read it. I tried but found it so tedious.
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The entire book is written about Hillela only from others points of view. Fascinating, and a compelling review of African independence.
April O Gorman
Dec 31, 2018 rated it did not like it
Hated this book. Did not finish. Was totally confused by characters and what they were at.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
surprising reading
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some great/moving moments, but I tended to get lost along the way a lot. I may have gotten lost a little less if I'd had a better grasp of the history. I also didn't really 'get' Hillela and how and what she was defined by (or not).

A more nuanced than usual (?) treatment of post-colonial nation building in Africa was interesting to read. It shows how much one doesn't know, and how little one has thought about these movements, civil wars, regimes... before dismissing them from consciou
Mithunan Jordan
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mithunan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This book was great. The main character, Hillela is strong without being forceful. At times, she appears to just be naive, young, innocent. Really, she is an observer, a learner, and highly adaptable. She seems to take life in stride, as the narration is of her life, not by her. This gives a feeling of a biography, and at times, as different character's perspectives are given, one is not sure the idea of Hillela one has is the true one.

The book is set in the second half of the 20th century in Af
Dec 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was pretty excellent, even though I didn't really like the main character all that much. I had a really hard time really sympathizing with a woman who was, essentially, defined by the men she slept with or, in the case of Leonie, with the stronger women she associated with. Her final role as the wife of a revolutionary president was exemplary of this - she was defined by her role as wife to someone impressive, not as someone impressive in and of herself. I also got a bit annoyed with t ...more
Dec 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Gordimer is one of my favorite writers, but I don't think this book is one of her best. I never really understood what motivated the protagonist and I was not convinced that her "revolutionary" ideas were anything more than a desire for personal revenge and undisciplined response to physical attraction to various men in the book. I think Gordimer was trying to demonstrate how Hillela's personal investment in ending apartheid after her husband's murder demonstrates that the sincere political come ...more
Apr 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved Nadine Gordimer's use of words. Many quotes in this book, and ideas that I just loved. Really made me think about the way I perceive life and the things that happen in life. I would definitely read another Nadine Gordimer book.

The only reason I couldn't give it 5 stars was because I just didn't get into the story. I felt no connection to the characters. I feel if I can't connect with the characters on any level then the events that take place have less meaning.

Similar to the way I felt
Rick Edwards
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent writing and a compelling story. The heroine lives on the edge, continually breaking the apartheid barriers as well as other manifestations of cultural tradition. Her story ends up as the story of a white woman who finds her way to the very center of the national liberation movement in southern Africa. I recommend it for your reading pleasure and for your historical and spiritual illumination.
I got this from the New Haven Reads "free bookstore" in 2005, and gave it away... somewhere. I can't remember. I wish I hadn't, though, because I'd reread it sometime.

I remember that I loved the beginning, and disliked the ending. It's rather a sweeping book, though, so a lot happens to get you there. It's surprising where she ends up, and I think it made me uncomfortable. I'm not sure that's the same thing as bad, though.
Sharon Howe
Apr 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Currently reading. Nadine is always thoughtful, and insightful. Tough stuff sometimes, but I take my time and think it through. Yes, the book is 1987 South Africa, but still reflects values, opinions, culture, that SA is dealing with (or not). Finished it. Fascinating twist about 2/3's the way through it. A good feminist book. ...more
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I learned a lot about African history, and more importantly, I learned that I have a lot to learn. I wonder if Gordimer would write it differently in light of the politics of the past 20 years.

And Gordimer's treatment of Hillela is intesting. I like the way we know what people think of her, but we rarely know what she thinks of anyone or anything.
I have mixed feelings about this book. There are aspects of the writing style that I found annoying. I didn't like that speakers were never identified. I didn't like the ambiguity in time and place. It seemed annoying and unnecessary.
Still there were things learned and understanding enhanced which is always a good thing..
Feb 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book about the fall of apartheid in South Africa. The main character is a bit of a Forrest Gump tyoe, connected one way or another with all the important events of the time but not really part of them. The writing style is excellent, with assumptions about what you already know (as if these were historical events) before you know it, but all eventually comes clear.
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gordimer is as always searchingly trenchant in exploring shades of political motivation, culture, self-delusion, heroic daily sacrifice of the mundane kind. The life of black and white South African freedom fighters in exile; nuances of relationships. But main character, Hillela, struck me as not believable.
Apr 30, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book in preparation for Africa; was able to get alot of relevant political history from it; I need to think more about it before writing a review worth anything - the protagonist still baffles me weeks later...
Aug 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Very interesting story of what happened in south Africa during the apartheid era. the story is presented from the perspective of several members of a white Jewish family, some of whom were rich and others who were activists.
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Nadine Gordimer was a South African writer, political activist, and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was recognized as a woman "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity".

Gordimer's writing dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. Under that regime, works such as Burger

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