When life challenges youthful idealism

2009-04-22 00:00

During her lifetime (1899-1976) none of Dora Taylor’s fiction was accepted for publication. However, in recent years Penguin has undertaken to publish her work, as a result of which she has been recognised as a significant contributor to South African literature and honoured with the South African Posthumous Literary Award. Her last novel, Rage of Life, set in Sophiatown in the fifties and written in the early sixties, has been edited by Dora Taylor’s daughter and published for the first time this year.

It is an immensely readable and vibrant novel focusing on how easily youthful idealism is distorted and destroyed by the reality of life — and of making a living — in a seething locality characterised by colourful multiculturalism, oppression, impoverishment, vice, violence and too much death.

Protagonist, Lindeka (Linda) Malindi, is a spunky, sub-educated young woman whose experience is in advance of her years. By 16, she has lost her parents and seen her brother’s battered corpse, following a clash between rival gangs. Subsequently alone and pregnant, she seeks help from the formidable

Ma-Jaze, proprietor of a shebeen called Angels One, which hosts the Sophiatown Dixie Trio and attracts miscellaneous reprobates, some of whom have considerable notoriety as gangsters.

It attracts, too, one Simon Manzana, a less hardened individual, who has left his wife, young child and needy extended family in the Transkei, in order to make money in Goli. He and Linda are immediately attracted to one another and begin a relationship, which seems to be good for both of them but which — along with other corrupting influences of the city — necessarily erodes Simon’s commitment to home.

He is, however, not without a conscience.

With considerable sensitivity, Dora Taylor reveals the tragedy of a dislocated man and of two people who think they can find a sanctuary for their love in a context where love —and life itself — are expendable.

Dora Taylor vividly evokes the spirit of place and time and injects energy and tension into this compelling piece of writing.

Moira Lovell

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