A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Africa
"Ranks as one of Gordimer's best novels...It transcends politics and aims at a meaning higher than human striving."---The Philadelphia Inquirer
When Julie Summers's car breaks down on a street in Cape Town, a young Arab mechanic comes to her aid. Their attraction to each other is immediate. Julia, the daughter of a powerful businessman, is trying to escape a privileged background she despises. Abdu, an educated but poor illegal immigrant, is desperate to evade deportation. The consequences of this chance meeting are unpredictable and intense, as each person's notions of the other are overturned. Set in the social mix of post-apartheid South Africa and an unnamed Arab country, Nadine Gordimer's The Pickup "is a masterpiece of creative empathy...a gripping tale of contemporary anguish and unexpected desire, and it also opens the Arab world to unusually nuanced perception" (Edward W. Said).
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Nadine Gordimer (1923–2014), the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in a small South African town. Her first book, a collection of stories, was published when she was in her early twenties. Her ten books of stories include Something Out There (1984), and Jump and Other Stories (1991). Her novels include The Lying Days (1953), A World of Strangers (1958), Occasion for Loving (1963), The Late Bourgeois World (1966), A Guest of Honour (1971), The Conservationist (1975), Burger's Daughter (1979), July's People (1981), A Sport of Nature (1987), My Son's Story (1990), None to Accompany Me (1994), The House Gun (1998), The Pickup (2001), Get a Life (2005), and No Time Like the Present (2012). A World of Strangers, The Late Bourgeois World, and Burger's Daughter were originally banned in South Africa. She published three books of literary and political essays: The Essential Gesture (1988); Writing and Being (1995), the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures she gave at Harvard in 1994; and Living in Hope and History (1999).
Ms. Gordimer was a vice president of PEN International and an executive member of the Congress of South African Writers. She was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in Great Britain and an honorary member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also a Commandeur de'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France). She held fourteen honorary degrees from universities including Harvard, Yale, Smith College, the New School for Social Research, City College of New York, the University of Leuven in Belgium, Oxford University, and Cambridge University.
Ms. Gordimer won numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize for The Conservationist, both internationally and in South Africa.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Clustered predators round a kill. It's a small car with a young woman inside it. The battery has failed and taxis, cars, minibuses, vans, motorcycles butt and challenge one another, reproach and curse her, a traffic mob mounting its own confusion. Get going. Stupid bloody woman. Idikazana lomlungu, le! She throws up hands, palms open, in surrender. They continue to jostle and blare their impatience. She gets out of her car and faces them. One of the unemployed black men who beg by waving vehicles into parking bays sidles his way deftly through fenders, signals with his head--Oka-ay, Oka-ay go inside, go!--and mimes control of the steering wheel. Another like him appears, and they push her and her car into a loading bay. The street hustles on. They stand, looking musingly beyond her while she fumbles for her purse. An expert's quick glance at what she has put in his hand assures the street boss that it is more than adequate. She doesn't know how to thank them enough, etc. He hitches his body to get the money stowed in trousers cut to fit somebody else and smiles with his attention on the lookout for the next vehicle seeking a place to park. A woman wearing a towel as a shawl, enthroned on a fruit-box before her stock of hair combs, razor blades, pumice stones, woollen caps and headache powders, yells out to him what must be a teasing remark in a language the young woman doesn't understand.
There. You've seen. I've seen. The gesture. A woman in a traffic jam among those that are everyday in the city, any city. You won't remember it, you won't know who she is.
But I know because from the sight of her I'll find out--as a story--what was going to happen as the consequence of that commonplace embarrassment on the streets; where it was heading her for, and what. Her hands thrown up, open.
The young woman was down in a thoroughfare, a bazaar of all that the city had not been allowed to be by the laws and traditions of her parents' generation. Breaking up in bars and cafes the inhibitions of the past has always been the work of the young, haphazard and selectively tolerant. She was on her way to where she would habitually meet, without arrangement, friends and friends of friends, whoever turned up. The L.A. Café. Maybe most people in the street throngs didn't know the capitals stood for Los Angeles; saw them as some short version of the name of a proprietor, as the old-style Greek corner shop would carry the name of Stavros or Kimon. EL-AY. Whoever owned the café thought the chosen name offered the inspiration of an imagined life-style to habitués, matching it with their own; probably he confused Los Angeles with San Francisco. The name of his café was a statement. A place for the young; but also one where old survivors of the quarter's past, ageing Hippies and Leftist Jews, grandfathers and grandmothers of the 1920s immigration who had not become prosperous bourgeois, could sit over a single coffee. Crazed peasants wandered from the rural areas gabbled and begged in the gutters outside. Hair from a barber's pavement booth blew the human felt of African hair onto the terrace. Prostitutes from Congo and Senegal sat at tables with the confidence of beauty queens.
Hi Julie--as usual, beckoned. Her welcomers saw a graceful neck and face, naturally pale, reddened with emotion of some sort. Black and white, they fussed about her: Hi Julie, relax, what's up with you. There were two of her friends from university days, a journalist out of work who house-sat for absent owners, a couple who painted banners for rallies and pop concerts. There was indignation: this city. What shits.
--All they care about is getting there . . . --
And where is it they think they're getting to--this from the hanger-on with a shining bald pate and a cape of grey locks falling from behind his ears; still unpublished but recognized from childhood as a poet and philosopher, by his mother.
--Nothing gives a white male more of a kick than humiliating a woman driver.--
--Sexual stimulant for yahoos--
--Someone else shouted something . . . like Idikaza . . . mlungu . . . What's that, `white bitch', isn't it?--Her question to the black friend.
--Well, just about as bad. This city, man!--
--But it was black men who helped me, of course.--
--Oh come on--for a hand-out!--
Her friends knew of a garage in the next street. With a wave from the wrist she left them to take the necessary practical step.
She feels hot gassy breath. Steel snouts and flashing teeth-grilles at her face. Inside her something struggles against them. Her heart summons her like a fist under her ribs, gasps rise within her up to her collar-bones. She is walking along the street, that's all, it's nothing. Walking round a block to a garage. It's nothing, it was nothing, it's over. Shudder. A traffic jam.
There's the garage, as they said. As she walked in she saw its ordinariness, a landing on normality: vehicles as helpless, harmless victims upon hydraulic lifts, tools on benches, water dispenser, plastic cups and take-away food boxes, radio chattering, a man lying on his back half-under the belly of a car. There were two others preoccupied at some noisy machinery and they signalled her over to him. The legs and lower body wriggled down at the sound of her apologetic voice and the man emerged. He was young, in his greasy work-clothes, long hands oil-slicked at the dangle from long arms; he wasn't one of them--the white man speaking Afrikaans to the black man at the machine--but glossy dark-haired with black eyes blueish-shadowed. He listened to her without any reassuring attention or remark. She waited a moment in his silence.
So could you send someone to have a look . . . the car's round the corner.
He stared at his hands. Just a minute while I clean up.
He carried a bulky handleless bag with a new battery and tools and it was awkward to walk beside him through the streets with people dodging around them, but she did not like to walk ahead of the garage man as if he were some sort of servant. In silence, he got the car going and drove back to the workshop with her as his passenger.
There's still some--I don't know--in the ignition. Your car will stall again, I think.
Then I'd better leave it with you. I suppose it needs a general service, anyway.
When was the last time?
She was culpable, smiling, I don't remember.
I suppose I just drive until something goes wrong.
He nodded slowly, did not speak: of course, that's your way.
I'll give a call to find out when it's ready--you're Mr . . . ?
Ask for Abdu.
She allowed the garage two or three days to do whatever was needed. When she called and asked by name for the mechanic who had taken charge of her car she was told he was out but it was certain the car was still under repair. This didn't matter, there was her father's third car at her disposal, a handsome old Rover he'd bought at a Sotheby's auction and had refurbished, then seldom used. It was a car from The Suburbs, of a kind that wouldn't be ventured down in the quarter of the EL-AY Café When it was parked there under the admiring care of a well-tipped street man, people stood around to gaze at it, a denizen from another world, affluence as distant as space. She was not over-concerned that it would be stolen--it was too unique to be easy to get away with undetected, and too grandly obsolete to be a profitable source of parts, if broken up. She was only uncomfortable at the idea of its exposure--and hers, as its family occupant--before her friends. She did not live in The Suburbs, where she had grown up, but in a series of backyard cottages adapted from servants' quarters or in modest apartments of the kind they favoured, or had to, being unable to afford an
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0786238488