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224 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 2003
The past and the future are dangerous countries; I had been living in no man’s land, between their borders, for the last seven years.
Why? Is that too real for you? Ideas are always better than reality, of course. But sooner or later the real world always wins.
Everything is politics… The moment you put two people in a room together, politics enters in. That’s how it is.
"Betty, the flowers... Don't you want to take them? They'd look so nice in your little room..."When I read this little episode, I thought it was a peripheral detail, to contrast Frank's Spartan world with that of the pampered bourgeoisie he has left behind. But I now see that its attitude of racial misunderstanding cloaked in a misplaced benevolence is reflected in just about every other aspect of this morally complex novel. Take the hospital, for instance. It is a run-down place with few facilities and almost no patients, built in one of the former Homelands, an area of impoverished land ceded by the white government for native self-determination. Now, with Apartheid past, all the buildings and institutions of the former capital have fallen into disuse. Frank, who has been there for some years, is one of two white doctors in the hospital. The other is a young do-gooder named Laurence Waters. He has deliberately sought out this remote area to do his required year of community service after graduation, and is full of plans for outreach activities such as clinics in surrounding villages. The older Frank, who has to share a room with Laurence, both likes and resents him, feeling his values challenged, but unable or unwilling to do much about them.
Then, as Betty carries the brown limp leaves from the mantelpiece to the door, Frank's father speaks: "You're dropping petals, Betty. All over the place. Please, please..."
And the old lady in the nice blue uniform set the dying flowers down and got on to her knees. She started crawling across the floor, picking up bits of flowers as she went.