The Cardinals: With Meditations and Short Stories (African Writers Series)

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9780435909673: The Cardinals: With Meditations and Short Stories (African Writers Series)

Intense personal experience of South Africa's brutal social system, a sense of stifled creativity, and a distaste for politics made Bessie Head leave for Botswana on an exit permit at the age of 27. There, in her chosen rural haven of Serowe, and despite a severe mental breakdown, she wrote novels and stories that earned her international recognition as one of Africa's most remarkable and individual writers.

The publication at last of The Cardinals--thought to be the first long piece of fiction Head produced and the only one she ever set in South Africa--is an exciting literary event.

After a childhood of poverty and abuse in the slums of Cape Town, the protagonist unexpectedly lands a job as a reporter in the offices of African Beat. She is too withdrawn to flourish in her new world and struggles to find her identity as a woman and a writer against the muckraking demanded by her editors and the sexism of the newsroom. Johnny believes in her, but his faith carries its own dangers. Questions of origins, identity, sexuality, writing, love, revenge, and politics unite to propel the characters to joy while disaster waits.

The seven short pieces of fiction included in this volume come from the years immediately after Bessie Head went to Botswana. Among them is "Earth Love," which she called the "goddam best bit of writing I ever did."

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About the Author:

Bessie Head, one of Africa's best known writers, was born in South Africa but spent much of her life in Botswana. She died tragically early, in 1986, leaving behind her a fine collection of literary works. Tales of Tenderness and Power was the first of her works to be published after her death, and another anthology, A Woman Alone, has also been published posthumously. Both these titles reinforce Bessie Head's literary achievements, already evident in her novels Maru, When Rain clouds Gather, The Cardinals, A Collector of Treasures, A Question of Power, and her historical account Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind, which are all available in the Heinemann African Writer Series.

From Publishers Weekly:

Although South African writer Head (When Rain Clouds Gather) may have been ahead of her time in the 1960s, when she wrote the title novella and the accompanying seven short pieces set in South Africa, they have not aged well. Now they read more like scattershot historical information mixed with outdated ideas, and as a consequence, the introduction, about the political background to Head's writing, is far more interesting than the work itself. The central piece is the drab story of an equally drab woman who was sold by her mother for five shillings. Her one piece of luck is early on to become acquainted with an elderly man who teaches her to read and write. She lives in uneventful destitution until one day, while working in a hair salon, she dashes off an angry letter to African Beat?The Paper of the People, and the editor answers by offering her a job. She toils in the office with two obnoxious men?one of whom has designs on her even though she is so bland that they nickname her "Mouse." Although there are some interesting bits here about life in South Africa, dialogue is wooden and political detail takes a backseat to a dull genre plot that ends with redemption through romantic love. The remaining very short stories, if often unfocused, are more energetic. During a rain shower in "Earth and Everything," the narrator ruminates on love; "Africa" is a paean to that continent and its contradictions; and "My Home" describes what makes a place peaceful. The final story, "Earth Love," which describes a man 's homecoming, has more substance, but it too is so brief, it has barely any impact.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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