Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century

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9780374527525: Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century

Internationally celebrated for her novels, Nadine Gordimer has devoted much of her life and fiction to the political struggles of the Third World, the New World, and her native South Africa. Living in Hope and History is an on-the-spot record of her years as a public figure--an observer of apartheid and its aftermath, a member of the ANC, and the champion of dissident writers everywhere.

In a letter to fellow Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, Nadine Gordimer describes Living in Hope and History as a "modest book of some of the nonfiction pieces I've written, a reflection of how I've looked at this century I've lived in." It is, in fact, an extraordinary collection of essays, articles, and addresses delivered over four decades, including her Nobel Prize Lecture of 1991.

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Review:

"Nothing I write in such factual pieces will be as true as my fiction," Nadine Gordimer asserts in the opening essay of Living in Hope and History. It's hard to think of any line that would inspire less confidence in a book of nonfiction. But the author, after all, is a Nobel laureate, an antiapartheid activist, an African National Congress member, and a public figure of unimpeachable moral seriousness--and her warning is no piece of postmodern playfulness. Instead she means to draw an important distinction between genres. Nonfiction, in Gordimer's view, issues from her own political agenda, while her transcendent aim in fiction is to represent the way things are. The two impulses may overlap, of course, but they are seldom congruent. She's quick to acknowledge that writers can't truly escape politics, nor would it be desirable if they could. Still, writes Gordimer, "the transformation of the imagination must never 'belong' to any establishment, however just, fought-for, and longed-for."

What this collection offers, then, is not art itself but the record of one woman's fierce dedication to both her art and her politics--and her attempts to negotiate the relationship between them. Living in Hope and History includes graduation addresses, lectures, the author's Nobel acceptance speech, impressively learned essays on Joseph Roth and Günter Grass, and even her correspondence with Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe. Dating from the dark old days of apartheid through the present, the assemblage also offers a moving document of the South African struggle and its eventual fruits. Some of the most exhilarating pieces chronicle the new, postapartheid nation--"The First Time" finds Gordimer standing in voting queues for her country's first democratic elections, and "Act Two: One Year Later" is a celebration of Johannesburg's newfound vibrancy. Living in Hope and History is first and foremost a record of Gordimer's life as a public figure. In these essays, however, the political and the imaginative seem to sound a common, joyful note: this is the way things are, this is the way things should be. --Mary Park

About the Author:

Nadine Gordimer's most recent work includes None to Accompany Me (FSG, 1994), The House Gun (FSG, 1998) and The Pickup (FSG, 2001). She has received many awards, including the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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