The Umbrella Tree

Rose Zwi, Author Penguin Books $6.95 (120p) ISBN 978-0-14-013410-0
In this novella?or: `slim novel', or `novella'?, (novella implies brevity, though this might be an especially short one.) aa , two white women from Johannesburg--the mother and wife of an imprisoned anti-apartheid activist--drive their black servant to the impoverished village where she lives. There, they share an afternoon of tea and conversation under the umbrella treeor it sounds like she lives there for an afternoon...aa . Zwi, a former resident of South Africa, deftly summons up the harsh village climate and introduces memorable characters including the mother, Freda, a plump, radical old Jew who sings Yiddish songs about oppression to her black hosts, and Joseph, a sullen young man who, despite his bitterness toward whites, is moved and inspired by the music. But in stretching the story to more than 100 pages, Zwi ( Another Year in Africa ) does it harm. There are too many characters pk to track, and the dialogue sometimes seems a rip-off from political pamphlets (``The townships can easily be sealed off by a small detachment of police. You must have the people with you. You can't do it alone.''). Told in a more abbreviated form, the same encounter undoubtedly would be more poignant. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1991
Release date: 04/01/1991
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