Wednesday, July 11, 2007

War? Fiddle-dee-dee!

NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

If you're like me, reading this book will make you realize you know precious little about South Africa, and even less about what it's been like for people there to form a new post-apartheid society. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading. (But there's far more to it of course.) I used to hear a lot about South Africa in the news, when I was young. From CNN to U2, everyone who was anyone talked about it while we (we = the whole world, sort of) tried to end apartheid. But after that everyone kind of moved on. Although, not Hillary Clinton, I might add. Among the many places she traveled and acted diplomatically and helped people during her eight years as first lady was South Africa, where Chelsea and Nelson Mandela apparently became good friends. Love it.

Still, I would say that these days I can go for a couple years without thinking about South Africa. I'm pretty sure you do, too. Before this book, let's see, there were the handful of South African English teachers I met in the expat scene in Korea. Before that, apart from the occasional lamenting discussion when I volunteered at AIDS Action, probably had not given much thought to it since I watched Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (A great film by the way. Netflix. Netflix. Netflix.)

One of the main characters in this Gordimer book spent time in exile and was an important underground figure in the Movement (to end apartheid). At one point he ended up as an interrogator in a prison camp where they took spies who had infiltrated the Movement on behalf of the apartheid government. So here you had these people fighting for justice and their freedom to exist in their homeland and they end up doing to these prisoner spies the exact evils that corrupt white government officers had done to them. This particular main character is trying to reconcile this, even though he is the good guy who spoke up against using torture, even on spies. But now, post-apartheid, they are back living in South Africa and his wife has a prominent elected position and this dark side of his time in exile mustn't be revealed.

"Ashamed, even though he'd finally got himself out of the place, refused to carry on there. Refused, yet understood why others could do the terrible things they did; she was a woman after all, she could understand revolution but she didn't understand war." - p. 129

Oh yes, I like that very much. This is why I like this book. The emotional flashing back and forth of the other main character (the main main character) among her various lovers is a little tiresome--will she find out who she is? blah blah blah. But passages like the one above, which come about frequently in this novel, stop me in my tracks. I do believe that's me--all set for a revolution, but I just don't understand war.

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