Collected memories keep Bosman alive

2009-01-14 00:00

Herman Charles Bosman apparently loved Pietermaritzburg. As writer and literary custodian Lionel Abrahams has recounted, Bosman was enchanted by the look of the city and its age, and he admired the lightness of manner in which it appeared to carry its years.

On one visit, Bosman and his wife had noticed an attractive old boarding house and had knocked on the door and asked the landlady if they could look inside. So impressed were they with the place that before their departure from the city that same afternoon they returned to the house for another look. A different woman answered the door, and on his request, she replied: “Yes, certainly. In fact you’re the second gentleman today wanting to look around the house.”

Bosman apparently later told Abrahams: “Then I was frightened — to see how quickly things become fashionable.” That brief anecdote from this collection of “tributes, memoirs, sketches, interviews” provides a glimpse of the oblique angle from which Bosman viewed the world. And there are many other such observations, as a variety of his friends and acquaintances cast their memories back over the years and trawl up further proof of a talent so rare that it would not be hyperbole to describe it as bordering on genius.

For example, in the words of fellow prisoner Lago Clifford: “The most interesting person I met in Pretoria Central Prison was this young student — refined, creative, poetical. He is serving a sentence of ten years’ hard labour, having been convicted of murder, but reprieved. He is a university man who had a brilliant scholastic career; is highly read and possesses a most fascinating personality.”

Or Zita Grove, who remembers her prodigal cousin as not only one of South Africa’s most famous writers of short stories but also as “the most exciting person I have ever known”.

Or Fred Zwarenstein, a student with Bosman and later a distinguished advocate, speaking in 1980, shortly before his death: “He had this cruel sense of humour, which I think was some form of insanity, a kink of madness. But none of that undermines the fact that he was one of the finest writers that South Africa’s ever produced.”

Stephen Gray, who is not only the editor of this volume but also one of its contributors, and co-editor (with Craig MacKenzie) of Bosman’s Collected Works, as well as being one of Bosman’s biographers, has done us all a great service in helping keep Bosman’s extraordinary flame alive.

John Conyngham

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