Book review – A process of discovery

2012-03-17 10:12

Book Title: No Time Like the Present
Author: Nadine Gordimer
Publisher: Picador Africa
Pages: 421
Price: R260

In the world of fiction, you get best sellers and award winners. The two categories don’t always overlap but in the case of Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer, her writing is both popular and acclaimed.

Gordimer has been writing stories since the age of six and her sensibility, her penchant for capturing moments between people against a backdrop of a complicated society continues to be strong in her writing today.

No Time Like the Present is a story about a couple who find love in a time of political upheaval, in a South Africa that doesn’t accept that love is possible between people of different races.

Steven Reed comes from a Jewish family and Jabulile Gumede is from a Methodist family. They meet in Swaziland, where their relationship develops from that of comrades, to lovers, then husband and wife.

Gordimer reveals these characters through several events and how they navigate their way through these.

She says: “I don’t define novels according to political situations. We all live with so many circumstances pressing in upon us, and forming our personalities and our attitudes; this creates a context for novels, but there are no hard and fast rules. All writing, for me, is a process of discovery.”

The protagonists’ relationship comes under scrutiny because they come from different backgrounds.

Gordimer reckons: “Mixed-race couples have become natural, thank goodness – I had friends who were arrested under the immorality act. Now, it’s a completely different situation. Of course, it’s not exactly what people thought it would be but now it’s about people’s personal choice, passions and emotions. And even as far as gender. You can choose whom to marry.”

There are also issues of power in No Time Like the Present.

In the novel Steve decides to learn isiZulu because he feels excluded from a kind of intimacy that Jabu shares with their child.

In his language lessons with Jabulile there is a formal structure and an informal structure.

One could perceive this as a description of shifts in power in their relationship and how they happily negotiate these shifts. The novelist disagrees.

“There are no bosses any more when it comes to relationships. You are using old terminology”, asserts Gordimer.

“There is a different cultural background, which can make it interesting but there is a challenge, there are times when you can feel left out but it is not a question of who is in charge, it is a question of discovering each other.”

When it comes to the craft of writing, she is adamant that it mostly comes down to talent, no matter how hard you work on it. Gordimer’s advice to those who are experiencing writer’s block is this: “If you’re having a writer’s block then this story that you are attempting to write is not for you.”

As a post-apartheid reader, No Time Like the Present doesn’t make profound statements; it’s simply a
well-crafted story.

Perhaps that’s the point. We can now read stories that don’t need to make political statements all the time, but that are about our relationships and how we intersect with each other.

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