KDS (decemberthirty) wrote in bookish,

Life Times by Nadine Gordimer

Life Times is a somewhat massive tome; it's 560 pages long and contains nearly 40 short stories selected from Nadine Gordimer's large body of work. Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, is a very politically engaged writer; many of the stories in this book deal with the divisions between races, classes, and genders in her native South Africa. When read chronologically, the stories in Life Times provide the reader with a kind of time-lapse glimpse of the evolution of South African society over the last fifty years. As an American reader with only rudimentary knowledge of South Africa, I appreciated the chance to get a more nuanced view.

I'm usually a one-book-at-a-time reader, but I found I couldn't do that with Life Times. I realized after the first ten or so stories that I needed to break it up a bit--that reading the stories en masse didn't show them off in their best light and dulled my appreciation for what I was reading. So I read the stories a few at a time, and took breaks to read other things in between. Slowing the process felt right. After all, I was sampling stories produced over five decades of work; surely I should expected to invest some time into the book.

The collection as a whole is remarkably impressive. The stories were written between 1952 and 2007, and it is amazing to think that Gordimer wrote at such a consistently high level for over half a century. Even though there were very few stories in the collection that really set me on fire, I could see Gordimer's craftsmanship and subtle understanding of character in all of them. Besides the overall consistent quality, the thing that impressed me most about Gordimer's work was her utter refusal to simplify or to accept easy answers to moral questions. Although her anti-apartheid stance is clear in her writing, she never treats the subject of race in South Africa as anything other than a deeply complex tangle of histories, motivations, beliefs, realities, etc.

All in all, Life Times felt like a very thorough introduction to Gordimer's work. I've never read any of her novels, but I'm interested. Anyone have any recommendations for where to start with her longer work?

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