viernes, 4 de marzo de 2011

None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer

Life often presents an illusion of constancy or even continuity. They are illusions, of course, because ultimately we can never take anything for granted. Just ask the last friend who died. Equally, however, there are always things that we work towards, goals whose continued non-achievement gives life both meaning and direction. Surely we fear their achievement, because everything would then have to be redefined, a process that would prove at least messy.

This is the territory of Nadine Gordimer’s novel None To Accompany Me. For me the title signifies how every individual, when confronted with the necessity for change, must pursue personal, perhaps even selfish goals.

In None To Accompnay Me Nadine Gordimer presents characters in a newly-liberated, but as yet ill-defined South Africa. The struggle has been long. It has also been defining for its participants. It allowed differences to be ignored, splits to be papered over. It convinced some of a necessity to over-react, to over-compensate. And then, when the uniting goal is achieved, all realise that opposing is a less complicated act than supporting. We all know what we are against, but what we are for can only be argued. Like Byron’s Prisoner Of Chillon, experiencing the security of captivity can seem reassuring when the unknown of freedom is finally achieved.

Vera is as central a character as any. She’s white, married to Ben, has a daughter and has worked for liberation. She devoted just less than her life to the cause, less because she has retained an element of selfishness in her personal relations. So loosely intertwined are all of the strands of her life that change in one can apparently unravel all of them.

And then there’s Dydimus and Sibongile, also lifelong devotees of the cause. Opportunity begins to divide them. So does their past. There are new positions of responsibility to be adopted, politics to be worked out, compromises to be made. But there are also deeds from the past lacked away, skeletons that can be marched out for other’s convenience. And not all of them are personal.

The major issues of the time appear in the book. Cultural and economic differences between black and white cannot be escaped. Neither, it seems, can the prevalence of violence and crime. A pressing need to redistribute land will have to engage in battle with those who own it and want to exploit it. A nation whose majority has never been asked its opinion has to learn to live with the fact that the question’s answers now promote division above the assumed unity of the past.

And, if this is not already sufficient complication, those released from struggle must also come to terms with a generational shift. Progeny do not seem to have the same values. Whereas community was demanded by struggle, freedom promotes the individual, allows personal decisions that the older generation would not have tolerated.

A reader looking for a linear experience with characters wheeled on and off the set in order to assist a plot’s continued progress will truly hate None To Accompany Me. A reader with the patience to get to know people, to empathise with them and share their dilemmas will appreciate the non-linearity, non-literalness of Nadine Gordimer’s book. It is certainly a novel of its time, a period of uncertainly presenting perhaps an illusory cusp between a known past and an unknown future. Eventually we must ask if this state is anything unusual.

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