Nadine Gordimer will be remembered as one of the most compassionate luminaries of her time.
In the wake of Nadine Gordimer’s death, the world of literature is taking today to remember the extraordinary life and risk-filled career of the South African author. Gordimer, who died on Sunday at age 90, had published over 40 books across the span of her 6-decades as a professional writer. Her body of work also includes essays, short stories and other short fiction, always staying engaged and socially conscious. Born in 1924, Gordimer lived through and chronicled the Apartheid, as she insisted on the social responsibility of authors to their readers.
We get from newspapers the so-called facts, we get the dramatic events,” she said in Bookforum in 2006, after the publication of her 14th novel, “Get a Life.” “But novelists, poets, and playwrights show how people lived before, what brought them to this dramatic event, and how they are going to deal with their lives after it.… I always go back to the wonderful example of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’: If you want to know what really happened to people in the Napoleonic Wars and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, you can read the facts in the history books. But to know how it was to live then, we have to read ‘War and Peace.”
Gordimer’s novels didn’t shy away from the political, but she was more concerned with telling individual stories, showing the human consequences of war and suffering. Her most overtly political novel had to have been the 1979 “Burger’s Daughter.” It was banned in South Africa for some time, along with two other books by her. Now, it is regarded as one of her most influential works. It centers on the story of a woman, the daughter of a white anti-apartheid activist modeled on Nelson Mandela’s defense attorney Bram Fischer, who is trying to find her place in an increasingly radical society.
“[Y]ou could say on the face of it,” Gordimer once observed about the novel, “that it’s a book about white communists in South Africa. But to me, it’s … a book about commitment. Commitment is not merely a political thing. It’s part of the whole ontological problem in life. It’s part of my feeling that what a writer does is to try to make sense of life. I think that’s what writing is, I think that’s what painting is. It’s seeking that thread of order and logic in the disorder, and the incredible waste and marvelous profligate character of life.”
The quote could be applied, more or less, to all her writing, which aims to humanize the blank face of political turmoil.