Books · Colonisation · Gender · Whiteness & racism

The Pickup: a few unfinished thoughts

The PickupThe Pickup by Nadine Gordimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

New millennium, new rhythm. I think that’s what’s going on here. South Africans walking to the beat of hyphenated identities, flow and stutter, bounce and glide, at the mercy of beauty and ruthlessness… Gordimer’s ear to the ground heard this as it heard the sweet cadences of Ibrahim’s unaccustomed English and the mashed jerkiness of Julie’s cosmopolitan consciousness. The style! Attractively typeset to soften the mess all these pauses and interjections make of the page, it rushes, it breaks, it drives along like we’re in bad traffic, the enervated tailbacks of the millennial mind.

I think that white authors need to write diverse books, so props. It’s hard to do because you don’t want to continue the long crappy tradition of speaking for people you’ve prevented from speaking for themselves, taking the place of people you’ve disenfranchised. Before I even start I think, why am I writing this, I should leave it to people of colour to write about themselves… and here we go round the mulberry bush. Anyway, no matter how carefully and subtly it’s done, having a brown guy from a Muslim country end up being an agent of regressive patriarchy while a white woman’s freedom and superior judgement (or is it?) carrying the day feels problematic.

What’s this superior judgement about? That’s what’s really interesting, the lifeways and worldviews on offer to a economically privileged white woman in South Africa end up seeming equally spiritually unsatisfactory. There’s entry into the heartless hypercapitalist overclass, or the soulless camaraderie of rootless hipsters. Confronting the desert, Julie meets a silence so sweet it melts into poetry in her eyes and mind, it speaks to something buried, transforms her. She responds to the lure of a life of cooperation and mutuality with an expanded family and in communication with the land; she finds the rhythm her soul can dance to. Meanwhile Ibrahim values the stress on individual success that defines the milieu of Julie’s father. When they fell in love, he overlooked their incompatibility on such a deep philosophical basis and Julie lacked the awareness to formulate it. The upshot of betrayal puts the confrontation between individualist and communitarian values in a framework of gender dynamics, posing a thought provoking dilemma for feminist thought.

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