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Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories Hardcover – November 27, 2007
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Acknowledged as one of the finest writers of the 20th century, Nadine Gordimer has received dozens of her cultures highest honors, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and, most recently, Frances Legion of Honor in 2007. Her latest collection departs from her traditional themes of politics and race and explores the individuals 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 Gordimers great literary talent.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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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.
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." Undoubtedly, this message is a product of her deep dissatisfaction with the state of the nation of South Africa, which was a thriving capitalist society, albeit a government sanctioned apartheid world of discrimination, to the present day denouement that has come to grip the country after the change of control from the White minority, to the Black majority. This condition is expressed very much in her title story, "Beethoven Was One Sixteenth Black." In that story, she conveys that in the old days, all South Africans would try to emphasize the percentage of their blood that was "White," in the present day, all people are now emphasizing the percentage of their blood that is "Black." Her commentary being, `It is the same lie, just the color has changed."
The book is highly recommended for sophisticated adult readers who appreciate fine literary style and vocabulary, combined with deep emotional and psychological messages. As a collection of short stories, it is truly one of the best I have read in a very long time. She certainly put a lot of herself and her efforts into creating this fine piece of literature. It is very certainly worth the read.
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. However, in "Mother Tongue," one of the most haunting and rewarding stories here, a beautiful young German bride moves to South Africa with her new husband. Although her English is more than passable, she doesn't comprehend all the slang and lingo thrown around at the parties she attends. Even when her husband is embraced by another beautiful woman amidst of all the banter, she's justified in her confidence that she knows all that's necessary. I found the concluding language here quite sensual and alluring.
In some stories, the younger generation engages an older one to search for and sometimes find answers. A grandson wonders at the actions taken by his grandmother, a German Jewish performer who returns to Europe from Africa at exactly the wrong time before World War II. The "Frivolous Woman" of the title seems to have survived her brush with death, all right, and thought hardly anything was amiss. In "The Beneficiary," a pleasing and surprisingly powerful piece, a woman comes to love and appreciate her adoptive father, as the story concludes with the line, "Nothing to do with DNA."
All the stories here offer rewards for the reader. Ms. Gordimer's oblique language and unadorned handling of her plots camouflage the vast range of her subject and theme. This is remarkable: varied, engaging, uniformly brilliant. If you haven't made Ms. Gordimer's acquaintance yet, this is an excellent place to start.