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Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories Hardcover – November 27, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Thirteen stories from South African Nobel Prize–winner Gordimer offer a staccato demonstration of how people's origins, inheritances and histories—and the loss of them—are inescapable. The title story centers on the white, twice-divorced academic descendant of a London diamond prospector who visits his forebear's mine in Kimberly, South Africa, and wonders about who in the township, black and white, he may be related to. The narrator of Dreaming of the Dead is haunted by famous former companions (the late intellectuals Edward Said and Susan Sontag), while the grieving widow of Allesverloren (or All Is Lost) seeks out her husband's former lover to unearth a message from him. The daughter of A Beneficiary, meanwhile, finds an unsettling letter among the effects of her late mother, an actress. Cultural inheritance shadows the marriage of a Hungarian couple that emigrates to South Africa in Alternate Endings: Second Sense, and also the son of A Frivolous Woman, who resents his flamboyant German-Jewish émigré mother's easy adaptability. Again and again, Gordimer puts big, sweeping disasters (the Holocaust, apartheid) in the pasts of flawed, ill-equipped characters and shows how their choices have been little more than wing beats against history. The results are terrifying, sometimes acidly funny and often beautiful. (Dec.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Acknowledged as one of the finest writers of the 20th century, Nadine Gordimer has received dozens of her culture’s highest honors, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and, most recently, France’s Legion of Honor in 2007. Her latest collection departs from her traditional themes of politics and race and explores the individual’s sense of self and relationship to history, as well as the art of story writing itself. While critics praised some stories, such as the title story and "Allesverloren," they criticized others, including "Tape Measure" and a story about a parrot who spills secrets. Reviewers gave Gordimer lukewarm praise for her daring experimentation, but they cited some of her stories as slight. Though uneven, the collection still gives nod to Gordimer’s great literary talent.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374109826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374109820
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,242,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nsinga on December 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nadine Gordimer is masterful in using flawed people to tell the story of post-apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately, though, this collection of short stories is uneven, with about half missing the Gordimer standard. Best -- the opening story, "Bethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black", and the closing trilogy, "Alternative Endings". The tape worm story (Tape Worm) was weak, nauseating, and didn't merit inclusion in the collection. Dreaming of the Dead was also weakly constructed.

If you read July's People and hope for a series of small punches that you get, as in Gordimer's novels, you'll be disappointed. At the same time, most of these stories offer pleasant reflection about the human dimension of life in South Africa.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By jordan on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've read several of Gordimer's works (Jump, July's People, The Conservationist, The Pickup) and have always enjoyed her edgy political commentary and her minimalist style. However, I didn't care for this collection of short stories at all--found them slow, uninteresting, and uninspired. The out-of-place grotesque little item on a tapeworm was just plain bizarre.
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Format: Kindle Edition
One encounters the full majesty and weight of Nadine Gordimer's prose in this wide-ranging, inspiring collection. What this artist accomplishes with her plain language and her oblique approach strikes me as uncanny, as a sort of sleight of hand, the whole of which is a great deal more than the sum of its parts. As in the title story, in which a man leaves a European city to investigate, in some aimless way, whether his forbear had taken a black African mistress. The concluding word, freighted with multiple levels of meaning when uttered by the protagonist, causes mirth and merriment among his colleagues. We know how inappropriate this reaction is, but we hardly know how to describe what reaction would make sense.

In "Tape Measure" our daring author lays out the highly amusing musings of an intestinal parasite, and concludes the story with a very understated glimpse of menace. "Dreaming of the Dead" is Ms. Gordimer's highly personal elegy to three admired colleagues: Edward Said, Anthony Sampson, and Susan Sontag. This piece so highly praises the dearly departed that it shows the Nobel-winning author's skill in a new light. It also provides a quick and highly useful introduction to the three. Again, at an extreme economy of words.

Certain themes recur in this collection, in addition to the usual highly charged political viewpoints. Characters in most of the stories navigate the treacherous waters of love and marriage. The higher the stakes, the more care the characters take. Like the wife in "Alternative Endings - The Second Sense," who chooses to spare her cheating husband, the owner of a soon-to-be-bankrupt airline. But the widow who visits the gay man who had a love affair with her husband many years before, hadn't bargained for so much involvement.
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