D Jacobson Beginners

ISBN 13: 9780297173878

Beginners

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9780297173878: Beginners
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To Joel, David and Rachel - Jewish children in post-war South Africa - bitter conflict, racial conflict and social upheaval are all they have ever known. Resolving never to repeat the mistakes of their parents, they seek a new code of behaviour - and one that will lead them all through their journeys of self-discovery. AUTHBIO: Dan Jacobson was born in South Africa in 1929. After working in business and as a journalist in Johannesburg, he settled in Britain in 1955. He has taught at several universities in the United States and has recently retired from a professorship at University College London. He is the author of novels, short stories, as well as essays and autobiographical and critical works, which have been widely acclaimed and have been awarded several leading literary prizes.

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In spite of his age, Avrom Glickman was still upright and slender. The hair of his head was dark and curling, that of his full, spade-shaped beard was white; and the contrast made his face seem strong and decisive. But there was no strength in his grey, short-sighted eyes: only a weak bewilderment and amiability.

His single leather bag had been stowed in the cabin that he was to share with eleven others during the journey to Southampton; now he and his sons, Meyer and Benjamin, stood on the deck of the Union Castle liner. It was a bright, clear day. From the boat Cape Town looked like a village, dwarfed by the huge bulk of Table Mountain immediately behind it. The town was no more than a scattering of iron roofs, of church steeples, of gables, of trees: then the mountain rose, at first gradual in it slope and faintly green, but soon rising sheer, precipitous and bare, slashed here and there by great gulleys which zigzagged down its flanks. Darker and lighter shades of brown yielded to the blue of distance and height, and then abruptly the ascent was cut off by the wide, flat top of the mountain. Beyond it were a few white clouds, and the sun shining.

The three mean leaned in silence over the rail, staring down at the confusion of Cape Coloured porters and white passengers, occasionally glancing at the stillness and emptiness of the mountain above. The brothers looked much alike, neither taking after his father. They were both thickset, the elder more powerful in build than the younger, who was more a boy than a man; they both had heavy features and protruding lips, and wore their hair brushed directly back form their foreheads. Once, when a porter slipped and stumbled, the older brother, Meyer, laughed briefly; the father looked to see what his son was laughing at, and smiled, too, though he had seen nothing.

Finally Meyer said impatiently, in Yiddish, ‘It’s time to go. Come, Benny. Goodbye, father.’

Avrom Glickman’s eyes filled immediately with tears, and he held out his arms to his son. Reluctantly, ungraciously, Meyer came forward; he broke from his father’s arms as soon as he could. Then it was Benjamin’s turn. He too submitted stiffly to an embrace.

Nodding, holding a hand of each of his sons, though they pulled away from him, Avrom said, ‘I’ll bring Mama back with me. I’ll bring her safely.’

‘Good, that’s what we want.’

Still Avrom held on to them. ‘I’ll tell her what fine boys you are. She’ll see for herself when I show her the money we’ve saved.’

Meyer could not restrain himself. ‘We’ve saved? He repeated ironically. ‘We’ve saved?’

A moment later, with a last, brusque word, they had left him. His hands trembling, Avrom felt in his pocket for his spectacle case; he opened it and took out the wire-rimmed spectacles and put them on clumsily. One earpiece jumped away from behind his ear; but he let it lie where it was, in his beard, anxious to watch his sons go down the gangway. Already, it seemed, he was too late. He could not see them on the gangway, nor on the quayside. Without waving or waiting they had just left him on the boat, among so many strangers, to face the risks of the tree-weeks’ journey over the sea. He sniffed deeply, self-pityingly, and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Then, with a gesture that was already like a habit, he touched the inside of his jacket, weighed down with the fifty gold sovereigns he was carrying back to Lithuania – enough to bring his wife and two youngest children back with him to South Africa.

He remained at the rail, looking about him with curiosity and interest, his glasses still hanging askew. The tears had dried in his eyes; on his lips now there was a faint, absent smile. A steward moved about the deck, announcing through a megaphone that all visitors had to leave the ship immediately; around Avrom people were kissing one another, laughing, crying. A group on the quayside began singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A few minutes later a deep, prolonged blast from the ship’s siren made the boards of the deck quiver. Below, groups of labourers slowly wheeled back the gangways; they looked like immense, ungainly, long-necked insects, squatting back on their haunches.

Almost stealthily, a space of water opened between the quay and the side of the boat; bits of wood, fruit peels and other rubbish on the surface of the water spread out more widely; the people on the quay receded, their hands still waving, or cupped around shouting mouths from which no sound could be heard. More and more of the town, then more and more of the peninsula came into view, on both sides of Table Mountain. But the edge of the coastline was the fist to slip below the horizon; presently even the mountain began to shrink, until all its bulk was reduced to a single brown shoulder of land, standing high out of the sea. Losing size, the mountain lost its colour. It became no more than a smudge, a tiny mark on the horizon; then it was gone.

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