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

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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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: #1,878,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gordimer's new book of short stories is exquisitely written in a magnificently refined stylized format. Her message is sometimes slightly ephemeral, as she writes in snatches of feeling and emotion. Yet, her truly highly developed writing methodology is tantalizingly complex. The stories are varied and interesting in their subject matter. From the life of a tapeworm, to the very autobiographical story about her mental meanderings on an airplane with a problem, she covers a huge variety of life's experiences. She, better than most, understands how life's vicissitudes impose their will upon us, as we work to succeed at our chosen profession and seek success each in our own way.

What is surely interesting is that her message throughout the collection seems to be one of "Allesverloren" from the Afrikaans/German which translates as "All is lost" or as Gordimer herself translates it in the story, "Everything is lost." She seems to be saying that we live our lives and then they come to an end, and in that end, all is really just lost. Life ends and that is that.

While her message seems at times a bit existentially depressing, and interestingly she writes one story about a cockroach that somehow made its way inside the tube of her word processor and appropriately names the story "Gregor" after Kafka's famous piece, "Metamorphosis" her stories are not totally bereft of some hope for the process by which we live them. Yet, she also seems to tell us, that when they come to an end, they end, and thus, in that end, "all is lost.
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