Tag-Archive for ◊ University of York ◊

• Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923, into a white privileged middle-class family, in the small mining town of Springs Transvaal, outside Johannesburg, in South Africa. Both her parents were immigrants, her father, a Latvian jeweller, and her mother, from British descent.

Gordimer went to a convent school for her education. She was often made to stay at home, due to her mother’s belief that she had a weak heart. A good opportunity for Gordimer to start writing from the age of nine. Her first story “Come Again Tomorrow” was published when she was fourteen years old, in the children’s section of the Johannesburg Sunday newspaper Forum.

By the time she was twenty, she had had many stories published in local magazines. The New Yorker has been publishing her articles since then.

In 1945 Nadine Gordimer studied for a year at the university of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She was exposed for the first time to the social and political atmosphere of South Africa, which was to be her life time struggle.

She obtained honorary degrees in the United States, from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, New School for Social Research, also from Leuven University in Belgium, and from the university of York and the university of Oxford and Cambridge in England, and from Cape Town and Witwatersrand universities in South Africa.

She was made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and is the vice president of International Pen and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Litterature.
In 1998 she rejected the candidacy for the Orange Award, because it was only for women writers.

She was the first South African and the seventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Litterature in 1991. She also won the 1974 Booker Prize. During the 1960s and 1970s she taught in various United States universities.

Nadine Gordimer has written fiction, non-fiction, screenplay and short stories.
“The Soft Voice of the Serpent”, a collection of short stories, published in 1952, was Gordimer’s first book. “The Lying Days” her second novel.

Nadine Gordimer has a daughter from her first marriage and a son, Hugo Cassirer, who is a film maker, from her second marriage. She has been living in Johannesburg since 1948.

Starting from an early age, Nadine Gordimer has been concerned about the segregation in South African society due to the racist Apartheid regime, which she very vehemently opposed, despite growing in a society that considered it normal. She never spared any effort campaigning against racism in South Africa. She was the voice of the oppressed non-white through her writing. She is what we might call, a moral conscience of her country.

In The Pickup, Gordimer sets out what might look like a simple love story, but in fact the novel deals with many problems. Julie Summers a 29-year old white South African English young lady, who works for a media company, from a wealthy separated parents that she doesn’t care for much, falls in love with a dark skinned garage mechanic, an illegal Arab immigrant in south Africa who belongs to a humble background and is threatened with deportation. The intrigue starts to get complicated as the story progresses.

Throughout the novel we go through the trials and tribulations of the two lovers in order to reach a living compromise. They are both rejecting the values that they grew up with. Julie having distanced herself earlier on from her “bourgeois” background in South Africa, by living in very small modest accommodation, spends her free time with a liberal multiracial group called “The Table” at the L.A. café and drives a second hand car.

Faithful to her bohemian belief, she wants to live the simple life of her husband Ibrahim’s family in the arid desert despite the heat, the sand storm, the food, the primitive house and the language. She is happy to remain there and teach the English language to the natives. Ibrahim with his degree in economics is dreaming of leading the opulent an successful of Julie’s father, somewhere abroad, escaping from his harsh family life.

While Julie despises her father’s privileged lifestyle, Ibrahim is embarrassed by his family’s rudimentary way of life. Julie and Ibrahim have no common background. They are two opposites that attract.

The novel is divided in two parts. The South African part with the problem of racism, class and arbitrary bureaucracy, and the Arabian unnamed country part with the problem of unemployment and a bleak future for young people. Like the division between the two main characters.

Julie discovers in her husband’s family all the values she was missing in her own country and amongst her family. Such as solidarity between the members of the same family, the generosity, the spirituality, and the endless desert that she fell in love with, for her it represented the ultimate freedom which she was seeking.

As for Ibrahim, being in his own country was as good as being in prison, for him freedom was abroad where he could fulfill his dream. That’s why he accepts to emigrate to the United States without any hesitation, even if Julie refuses to accompany him.

Julie and Ibrahim remain faithful to their own selves until the end, even if they have to sacrifice their love for each other. But is it really a sacrifice or did they use each other as a means to reach what they were aspiring to?

The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer was discussed by the members of the Book Club of the United Nations Womens’ Guild on Friday, 1st December 2006.

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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham, England. She grew up in Solihull, in the English West Midlands, and attended St. Martin’s school from the age of 7 until she was 16, and then joined the 6th form at Solihull School. She studied for a B.A. degree in English at the University of York and then went touring for a year to Australia and New Zealand. Back in England she attended the University of East Anglia and attained an M.A. in their Creative Writing Course. She now lives in Warwickshire.

“Eve Green” was first published in 2004 and it is Susan Fletcher’s first novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel 2004 award.

“Eve Green” is the memoirs of 29 year old Evangeline, who is pregnant for the first time and travels back in time to her childhood when she was just eight years old. She reflects on her mother’s sudden death, her move to her grandparents’farm in Wales, in a remote, small countryside village where people gossip as well as interfere in everybody’s affairs. Especially with so many secrets, betrayal and lies abounding.

The eight year old child, overwhelmed with grief and loss, finds it hard to adapt from Birmingham city life to country life in Pencarreg, Wales.

The author gradually unfolds the story of Eve’s first Welsh summer. Her infatuation with Daniel, the farm help 16 years her senior who represents the missing father figure.

Her friendship with Billy Macklin, a disfigured man excluded from the whole community for being insane, but who is in fact kind-hearted and sensitive. (Read page 260).

It is through Billy Macklin that Eve will discover the truth about her parents’ romantic, mysterious love story which helps Eve resolve her identity problem by discovering the identity of her father and what he was guilty of. This was one of her quests for discovering her family’s dark secret.

There is also the mystery of Rosemary Hughe’s abduction, not forgetting Billy Macklin’s disappearance after the barn fire. Nor Kieran, Eve’s Irish father, who was never seen again after leaving the village, mysteries which will remain unravelled.

The novel does not have an orderly ending. Susan Fletcher says in her interview: “I didn’t want a tidy ending. It would have felt false, to me… it is really up to the reader to decide what happened to Billy, for example, or where Rosie may now be. I feel too that the book becomes more personal that way.” Indeed, unsolved mysteries can be a very up-to-date way of writing a plot. The complete opposite of an Agatha Christie or a Conan Doyle.

In “Eve Green” the Welsh countryside is described in all its breathtaking beauty, which illustrates how the author must love it: “I was keen to set the book in rural Wales. It is this wild, lonesome landscape that first led me to want to write.”

Like an artist painting so Susan Fletcher paints with words. The book is written with a great deal of feeling. The pages are rich, almost too rich, with the description of the Welsh countryside and the small details of everyday country life with its goosip, animosity and mysteries.

In an interview Susan Fletcher reveals that she thrives on descriptive prose but has to be careful not to overdo it. She says the only similarity between her and Evangeline is the red hair and the love of the countryside. Otherwise the book is entirely fictional: “I knew very little when I began to write “Eve Green”. I had no plot, no list of characters, I wasn’t sure of my themes. But I knew I didn’t want my debut novel to be autobiographical. Eve bears a slight resemblance to me, but otherwise this story is hers.”

Susan Fletcher describes her characters in great detail, which makes them alive enough for us to want to piece the story together to have a full picture of the puzzle. As Eve will be doing throughout the novel, painting the souvenirs of lost loved-ones in a touchingly exquisite simplicity.

The style is lyrical, the scenes are evocative and captivating, which helps to create a novel close to poetry. The description of the characters, of the verdant Welsh valleysor even the reminiscence, reveals the author’s evident love for poetry: “Whilst working on “Eve Green” perhaps the greatest inspiration came from poetry, not from prose.” She adds: “I love a good, poetic novel, and I love description. That’s my real passion.”

A good book from a young, promising story teller.