"Life times" and memory

Nadine Gordimer's latest anthology is an orange five hundred and fifty page tome, suitable for use as a footrest. But of course such a collection of masterpieces of modern short fiction can’t always be used to appease the posture of my five-foot-one-and-three-quarter inch frame.

Human beings have unreliable memories, especially when separated from a particular world by time and distance. We need to be prodded to recall the events and atmosphere of thirty or twenty years ago. Considering that the average life expectancy of a Zambian is less than forty, my childhood is actually a lifetime ago.

Ms Gordimer prods me to remember scenes on the evening news of South African youth running from armed police, the pictures hazy through the teargas. Apartheid was the theme that followed us from day to day, why were the shops empty, Coca cola missing, fuel, and where was affluence? I was too young to understand Structural Adjustment Programmes and the treachery of the World Bank and IMF, but old enough to understand that in South Africa people were tortured and killed for the simple reason that they were black.

Ms Gordimer reminds us of those times, tales of the 1950’s and 60’s. Not all blatantly about apartheid, but shrouded in its mist - the affluence of the whites anchored in the subjugation of blacks, racial microcosms that could never merge, language that could never really convey meaning or intent and that often left behind confusion or misunderstanding. 

photographs: scatterkier, the man booker prize on flickr

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