Author:
• 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. cafĂ© 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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