Monday, October 31, 2011

Something Out There: Stories

by Nadine Gordimer
New York : Viking Press, c1984.

This collection of nine short stories and one novella (the title story) published in 1984 is my introduction to acclaimed author Nadine Gordimer. When I first went to the library to get one of her stories, I didn't know much aside from the fact that she was a South African author. I left the library with a couple of choices, and decided to pick this one up mainly because I was in the mood for reading something short before I went to bed instead of beginning a novel.

So far, inauspicious beginnings and (possibly) strange choice as an introduction to Gordimer's works. The first story was "A City of the Dead, a City of the Living," and I was gripped. She intersperses one of the character's thoughts, almost like a journal, between several paragraphs with a third-person omniscient narrator. It didn't take me long to figure out which characters thoughts i was reading, and this added to the tension. This was probably my favorite story of the collection, and I am truly in awe of Nadine Gordimer's way with words and ability to write a short story. Her stories are sometimes depressing, but always striking, and she never wastes a word. "Letter from His Father" was the most over my head. It is a "reply" to Franz Kafka from his father, Hermann. Because I have never read Kafka's "Letter to My Father," I missed much of the nuance, though I could appreciate some of its cleverness.

The only real disappointment in the collection was the novella, "Something Out There." I'm blaming myself for this, at least in part, because I know so little of the politics and history of South Africa, and I'm almost certain that I would have appreciated the points she was making, had I been more familiar with South Africa in the late 70s and early 80s. Instead, while I sometimes caught some of what she was saying, I never could quite bring the themes of the story into focus. Overall, this was a very positive reading experience, which included a couple of trips to the dictionary ("shebeen" and "analemma") and just a tad of research on apartheid. I loved Gordimer's writing style. In fact, I was thrilled to find that the day I returned this book to the library, they had July's People in their booksale, so now I'm prepared when I'm ready to tackle one of Gordimer's novels.

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