cover image Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954–2008

Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954–2008

Nadine Gordimer. Norton, 39.95 (800pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06628-9

Politics and literature intersect in this comprehensive—sometimes too comprehensive—collection of nonfiction writings by the Nobel Prize–winning South African novelist and antiapartheid activist. Covering five decades, these short pieces run the gamut: autobiographical sketches; chiaroscuroed travelogues that wander from the Congo to Cairo; literary essays on novelists from Tolstoy to Chinua Achebe and Philip Roth; profiles of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; op-eds on issues like AIDS and water shortages; the odd dispatch from the Cannes film festival and a retrospective on the 20th century. At the vital core of the volume are Gordimer’s gripping reports from the battle against apartheid, in which she dissects the hypocrisy and brutality of South African racism and ponders her responsibility as a white liberal “minority within the minority.” The more polished of these pieces brim with subtle insights and evocative landscapes and characterizations. Others, culled from after-dinner speeches, letters, and other odds and ends, have a tossed-off feel; the tome is large enough to require and reward judicious browsing. At its best, Gordimer’s writing is both consummately artful and deeply engaged; she shows us that “the truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” (June)