So, I finished Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer last night. My initial impressions were unchanged – it’s a great, nuanced, complex story about identity. About how our upbringings shape who we are and who we want to be and who we don’t want to be. It’s about South Africa and how bad things can get, and how hard it is to shake off rotten institutions even with justice and rightness and the best will in the world. it’s about the blame we deserve and the blame we don’t deserve but which belongs to us nevertheless. I’m honestly surprised that I’ve never had this book recommended to me, so I’m recommending it now. I saw a reviewer had said it was a worthy book but with no joy or pleasure in the reading. I have to disagree with that. The writing is beautiful and Rosa Burger’s life is compelling and rich. Though the context in which it is lived is pretty bleak, I wouldn’t say it was a joyless book at all.
And now indulge me in another spontaneous poem, which is infinitely less serious than seminal South African literature.
- This is Your Brain on Books
An egg of a workman, clad in
the overalls made purely for men like him,
pushes his trolley away from the top
of the escalator, ready to begin
his hallowed work. A minor
priest of the city. We all say the same
silent prayer in the oily incensed
wake of his passing. He lets the last layman
go by with a patient benediction, and
tickles the red direction-light like a
man who has lived among lions. I believe
so fervently in his communion that
I wait for him to tame the escalator’s
restless movements with this touch,
but he is only rubbing at a mark on the glass.