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Showing 1-10 of 109 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 148 reviews
on September 29, 2015
Doris Lessing's debut novel "The Grass is Singing" is a raw, mesmerizing, and powerful indictment of racism in South Africa.

In England, everything is understood in terms of class. In South Africa, everything is understood in terms of race.

Mary, the protagonist, is a poor white, and that affords her the same luxury as a rich white in South Africa. Throughout her twenties, the color of her skin buys her a happy and careless existence, of easy friends who room with her and polite acquaintances who dine her. But it is also her skin -- and the power that comes with it -- that oppresses her as she turns into her thirties. Society demands she must marry, and so she marries a luckless farmer named Dick Turner, who is luckless because he is wedded to romantic notions that are out of step with the power dynamic of the society he lives in. He cares for the soil when his neighbors are so ready to burn it, and he seeks peace with the native laborers who toil on his farm when his neighbors only know how to shout and scream at them.

Into this fraught power dynamic Mary is suddenly thrown in. She is a bit romantic, and she wants badly to love the husband she hardly knows. But she is also a racist, and in the end it is the racism that defines her, and structures and drives her. Her husband lacks her fierce racism, and so Mary can only pity his weakness. Mary knows that his sentimentality -- his connection to the land and to the natives -- is what makes him hopeless. Mary's struggle to impose her racist worldview on her husband is futile, and it damages both irrevocably. Her husband adopts Mary's racist overtones as a compromise, and the webbing that holds together Mary's racism weakens, and begins to disintegrate.

Into the household steps Moses, a semi-literate native. Mary and Moses soon develop a violent repulsion towards each other that becomes a suffocating attraction. Both oppressed by the overriding power dynamic that rules their souls, both becomes slaves to each other. They cannot express their attraction through love, so they must invariably turn to destruction.

"The Grass is Singing" is so lusciously written that it sings. It sings of a majestic music to the land, and a redeeming spirit to the people. But power suffocates and destroys all. The financiers control everything, and the farmers must destroy the land and exploit the natives to feed their addiction to money. Racism is the religion that animates everything, and in so doing corrupts everyone.
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on September 18, 2016
I am not sure why I brought this book,I've never read any work before by the author but I gotta give the writer credit she was a gifted writer and I do recall finding times in this book where I could feel where the writer was taking me to a climax of suspense and excitement ,then I'll be met with confusion I be like what happened?What does this mean? The only character that I wanted to know more of was her husband,Dick!He intrigued me for some reason and I felt he really was Jonah's twin.I didn't know if Mary and Moses were more than just master/slave it teased you but you never really knew.
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on May 30, 2015
This novel can really rattle you. You know pretty much from the beginning that Mary Turner, the novel's heroine, who has been found dead at the opening of the story, was doomed. Then you gradually collect understanding of why and how she was doomed when you start reading about her frivolous party years in a town somewhere in South Africa. Mary is quite content partying with and befriending men but not marrying them. She slowly turns into a figure of ridicule when he friends marry and she turns into an old maid. Finally a suitor presents himself: a farmer who is not well-off but who is in awe of her even though her looks begin to fade and she still reads the same sentimental novellas as when she was a young girl.
When she follows him to his farm somewhere deep in Rhodesia their marriage is a disaster from the very beginning. How could it be otherwise: she, a conventional, prejudiced, colonial woman of average intelligence who is not used to working with her hands (she used to have a well-paid job as an office clerk). And her husband the farmer has some kind of ADHD or bipolar problem which causes him to start growing new crops and developing new experimental projects that he abandons before they can reap the results.
The story relentlessly follows the steep slope downwards, and everything is described with depressing, yet gorgeous precision. If you'd like to experience what Africa is like, the sounds, the sights, the smells of the bush, the animals and the people, you will feel them right here in the poetic, highly knowledgeable and emotional descriptions. There are several opportunities for things to develop and for Mary and Dick Turner to make a change in their pitiful lives, but due to the roles in which they themselves and their upbringing have cast them, they never succeed. Things get even worse when Mary is forced to keep a black male servant who frightens her. She has fired too many servants so her husband threatens her that she cannot get rid of this one. This guy however, Moses, is the victim of some slight of Mary's and he will be her eventual murderer. Moses completes the list of characters who are predictable in the way they act because they are locked in their historical (colonialist) and cultural framework. We are not surprised when Mary slowly becomes mad: Moses abuses and seduces her in a way that she can't resist although she wants and needs to. Our suspicion that Mary is the victim of childhood sexual abuse (by her father) is confirmed.
One word about the title of the novel: if you think the title is highly evocative, you will not be disappointed by many other descriptions, for instance of the dark threat of the bush or the mind-numbing, all-pervasive heat. Some passages are hard to read, yet they are profoundly moving and/or thought-provoking: such as why Dick and Mary don't have children, their sexual dysfunctionality, the relationship with Moses, and the shame of the shoddiness and dirt in Mary and Dick's household.
*** I had read this book as a 16-year-old, but didn't remember the story that well. But I did remember that I had gone to pieces reading it that time too.
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on October 30, 2014
There was nobody in the book I liked or understood. But Lessing's prose is so elegant it made me read on.The events and descriptions are very depressing. I was glad when I finished and could put the book down.
However, I am now curious about Lessing's other books and will go back to her.
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on September 15, 2015
Although the descriptive prose was excellent and put the reader in the setting, I found the topic quite depressing and extremely dark and hopeless. I felt that Lessing's depiction of the main female character did not give the reader a clear view of the character's motivations and that her actions were somewhat befuddling.
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on April 6, 2017
I found this novel DARK and depressing. The writing is excellent but I really disliked the character, Mary. She was self involved and treated everyone including her husband with contempt. A very unhappy person probably due to her upbringing.
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on October 27, 2016
I found this book depressing and the storyline unclear. Others in my book group found much more positive aspects. Had this not been assigned, I would have stopped reading long before I had finished. While it speaks of South Africa's social situation in very early Apartheid time, it was vague and uninterestingly written in my opinion. Yet there was description of progressive deterioration of a person's psyche throughout and some felt this was worthwhile - I did not. The copyright is 1950 and I could not help but feel the writer would have offered this narrative in a different way had she been writing later. Perhaps I am just shallow -since she received a Nobel Prize!
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on January 5, 2014
Most certainly 3 stars possibly more. My hesitation is that the central character, Mary, who is so carefully and sympathetically drawn, is also sexless in a way that isn't sufficiently explained. To that extent I find her a little bit unbelievable. There is a very briefly mentioned instance of “that event” which might be to do with the sexual relations of her parents or it could be an allusion that her father’s sexuality impinged on her young teenage self in a physical way.

Perhaps Lessing, at the time of writing this book in the period just following the war thought that the psychological entrails of behaviour not useful to explore but rather that the situation in the time of the situation IS the focus. Or, it could be a point Lessing is making; that the sexuality of women is a plaything of men and that women do not have a sexual identity.

However, the novel is a story of the descent into madness of Mary and her sad and unanchored husband and their lonely relationship over fifteen years on their unsuccessful farm in the veldt. Their home – not much more than a shack - is small and hot and a statement of their poverty yet their sense of dignity as white people in of the period. The only other human contact on a daily basis is with the Africans who are the farm workers and house servants and yet the extent that there isn’t any shared humanity by the whites for the Africans is at the core of the book and the descent into insanity of the two white people. It is all achingly intransigent.
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on January 14, 2015
A sad but lovely story of a happy free career woman who gives up her life in the city to marry a man she barely knows. It all goes downhill from there, and the farm is one failure after the next. She takes her anger out on the black field hands and kitchen help, and not on her passive but well-meaning husband. She becomes trapped in the oppressive heat and her own headspace and it leads to many horrible things...and she is murdered. That is no spoiler, as you learn this in the first paragraph.
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on December 13, 2011
This was my first book by the famed Lessing. It focuses on the relationship of a poor couple eeking out a living on a farm in South Africa. When I first started out on this book I was convinced that the story would focus on Apartheid in South Africa. There are different elements of these aspects in the book, but I did not find that race was the main topic. To my surprise the core of the book is about something completely different (from my perspective) in terms of life paths, dreams and expectations versus the brute force of reality. There is also a perception of the power of the past and the present reflected in the characters of Moses and Mary. It seems to me that the novel is a study of sanity in the face of those forces. The true main character is the landscape, the unrelenting flow of time and seasons in the African grasslands under which both human structures and minds crumble. I found myself quite a bit fascinated by the unfolding of the story. The part I am particularly drawn to is when Lessing muses about the South African landscape, the colors of the sky and light, as she embraces the reader with the sounds of insects and scents of dust and flowers. The heat of the world is apparently relentless warping the perception of goals and dreams. Mary's crumbling existence and psyche are depicted in a way that makes me feel uneasy, but allows us to connect to reality. A great read making me interested in other works by Lessing.
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