Sunday, May 20, 2007

achmat dangor

"Bitter Fruit" begins with Silas Ali, former member of the African National Congress, when he spots ex-police officer Francois Du Boise, a man who, 20 years earlier, raped Silas' wife, Lydia. Now, Du Boise is in pretty bad shape but Silas notices through some gestures, he is still the same fascist in this new ‘free’ post-apartheid South Africa.
After this disturbing encounter Silas starts wondering about his own son, Mikey, -- who, we learn later, happens to be Du Boise's biological son – and this gives way to anxious brooding: “A distant fear came back to Silas, one that he rarely allowed to take shape in his mind—Mikey is not my son, son physically” (91). This idea is reminiscent of Coetzee’s “Disgrace”, and I was left thinking about these unavoidable rapes that seem to end up in conception against all odds. The following paragraph is eloquent:
“There are certain things people do not forget, or forgive. Rape is one of them. In ancient times, conquerors destroyed the will of those whom they conquered by impregnating the women. It is an ancient form of genocide. It does not require a Sufi prophecy to see the design in that. The Romans and the Sabine women, the Nazis and Jewish women in the concentration camps, the Soviets in Poland, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian refugees, white South African policemen and black women.
You conquer a nation by bastardizing its children” (204).
Althoug Silas tells Lydia that he has seen Du Boise at the grocery store, she is furious, maybe because the time has come to unveil Lydia’s karma of having given birth to and raised the son of the man who raped her. Is this the way they learnt to cope with apartheid?, What’s beneath this oppressive system that makes impossible the contact between individuals, favoring superficial differences (skin, color, race)? As Nadine Gordimer has shown in her own novels, the results of impersonal oppression can be deeply personal, wounding the psyche irrevocably.
Gordimer herself said of Dangor; “In the post-apartheid era, Dangor has tackled in ‘Bitter Fruit’ with the honesty of his insight, the problems as well as the promises fulfillment of the enormous change that freedom brings about”


Chris said...

The post-apartheid moment provided many authors with the perfect socio-political drama which could be mirrored in the more personal psycho-emotional dramas of their novels. None were better than the haunting, traumatic, exhilirating 'Disgrace', but Dangor has also provided very good use of this political context.

My main concern -- and it is a fundamental one -- is his weak character development. I felt that the boy, the main protagonist, was an idealised and perhaps cliched view of how the author saw himself: ... literary, independent, beautiful, mysterious. This narcissism could have possibly been harnessed to add yet another layer to the drama, but instead leaves the novel somewhat flat -- as I was never able to see the boy as a real person -- as well as somewhat laughable -- as we think of a middle aged author living vicariously through the an alternative imagined youth of success, rebellion and sexual exploits.

nico said...

Wow Chris, I think you're right! Probably the character of the boy seems like a mannequin precisely because of this impossibility of having an identity in this context, although it may also be part of what you say. Naturally I don't dare object your views on the apartheid conflict, since that's your bread and butter (that expression doesn't convey what I wanted to express, but you know!).
So, are you gonna help me mow the lawn?