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Nadine Gordimer Biography

(1923– ), The Lying Days, A World of Strangers, Occasion for Loving, The Late Bourgeois World

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Ellen Gilchrist Biography to Grain

South African novelist and short-story writer, born in Springs, Transvaal, educated at the University of Witwatersrand. Gordimer is known for her sensitivity to the repression of the black majority in South Africa. Her first novel, The Lying Days (1953), about a young woman growing up in a South African mining community, was followed by A World of Strangers (1958) and Occasion for Loving (1963), both portraying white protagonists open to relationships with blacks, but ostracized by their own people. Her distinctive realist style first emerged in The Late Bourgeois World (1966) with its depiction of a middle-class Johannesburg woman who looks back on past failures with her ex-husband, an ineffectual saboteur, and faces new challenges from a black friend involved in underground political struggle. A Guest of Honour (1971; James Tait Black Memorial Prize), set in an independent black African state, concerns a former English colonial official, who begins to question his most cherished liberal beliefs. The Conservationist (1974; joint winner of the Booker Prize) concerns the choices faced by a conscience-ridden South African industrialist. Gordimer's later novels reflect her perception of the narrowing of political options for the ruling white minority in South Africa. These include Burger's Daughter (1979), in which a young woman is haunted by the political legacy of her Afrikaner Marxist parents who died in prison; July's People (1981); and A Sport of Nature (1987), a picaresque novel about an independent young South African woman who travels throughout Africa and becomes involved in the process of liberation. My Son's Story (1990) deals with ‘coloured’, or mixed-race, protagonists; the central narrator attempts to come to terms with his father, who is forced to lead a life of clandestine deception due to his affair with a white mistress and his illegal political activities. As the son considers himself an aspiring writer, the novel comes closest to defining Gordimer's own complex role as a writer in South Africa on the eve of profound political and social change. None to Accompany Me (1994) is Gordimer's first novel after the free elections in South Africa; its chief protagonist is a woman lawyer whose personal life is politically impeccable but personally troubled. Some critics have judged it as irrelevant to the new South Africa. Gordimer's cool intellect is also evident in her many collections of short stories; among the best are The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1953), Friday's Footprint (1960), Selected Stories (1975), A Soldier's Embrace (1980), and Jump (1991). She also wrote The Black Interpreters (1973), an introduction to various black South African writers, and The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places (1988), a collection of essays. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. See Stephen Clingman, The Novels of Nadine Gordimer: History from the Inside (1986).

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