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


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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: 8.7 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 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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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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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on February 1, 2008
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We read this book for our book club and all of us were underwhelmed. The stories were interesting enough to keep reading, though, and while none of us had read anything by Gordimer before, loyal fans may find the stories more compelling.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This thirteen short story anthology focuses on the theme of how people identify themselves; more from a need to belong today than from heritage and family history especially if the backdrop is horrific like the Holocaust; as the past vanishes like an "etchosketch". Each of the fascinating entries will leave the audience pondering what it means to be a third generation living in a "foreign" land that is home in every connotation; even if it is the same land your ancestors occupied. What occurred to one's ancestors in the mother country a few generations ago only matters if the present makes it matter as roots are irrelevant unless today's descendents make it otherwise. All the contributions are well written and adhere to the basic concept. The most mesmerizing is "Alternate Ending" in which Nadine Gordimer tells the same tale from the "First Sense", "Second Sense" and "Third Sense"; perspective is everything. The title track is also terrific as a Londoner goes to Kimberly, South Africa pondering who he is related to as race is irrelevant. This is a thought provoking winner as never forget atrocities may be significant, but the present conditions rule.

Harriet Klausner
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