Friday, September 17, 2021

My hero / Nadine Gordimer by Tessa Hadley


Nadime Gordimer

My hero: 

Nadime Gordimer

 by Tessa Hadley

'No one writes as well as Gordimer about the conscientious unease of privilege'

27 January 2012

have a few heroes among living authors – but I've chosen the one who came first, the one who made a bridge for me into the present, out of my love of the classic writing of the past. In my early 20s, I was ignorant about contemporary fiction and hadn't come across anything that struck me with the power of George Eliot or Tolstoy or Lawrence. I opened A Guest of Honour in a bookshop and stood reading the first sentences. "A bird cried out on the roof and he woke up. It was the middle of the afternoon, in the heat, in Africa; he knew at once where he was." I can still remember the excitement.

'A tremendous teacher': Gordimer. Photograph: Jerome Delay

A reader's relationship is quite different to a living writer. Because you're alive in the same moment, breathing the same air in the same world, reading a great contemporary feels like finding yourself inside the forge where the book is being made. The writer is working at the edge of what's understood, shaping the inchoate present into sentences, revealing it for the first time.In my 20s, I was hungry to find out, through books, how to live. Gordimer was a tremendous teacher. There was the grandeur of her great and terrible subject, apartheid South Africa. There was the sheer sensuous materiality of her prose; Bray in A Guest of Honour doesn't wake to the idea of Africa, but to its birdsong, its heat – often in her stories there is a mysterious conjunction between sensual, sexual sweetness and radical politics. And then, no one writes as well as Gordimer about the conscientious unease of privilege, however impeccably liberal – the worm under the skin.

I contrived once, when I was young, to be in the back of a radio studio where Gordimer was giving an interview – I just wanted to share her space, feel the impact of her physical presence: fiercely concentrated, petite, precise. Writers aren't often made of heroic stuff, but it isn't only Gordimer's work I admire; there's something in the story of her life – her wholehearted politics and love of her country – that commands the imagination.


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