Monday, August 08, 2011


A World of Strangers, Nadine Gordimer, Simon & Schuster, 1958, 312 pp

As always, when I begin a story or novel by Nadine Gordimer, I have to reset something in my mind in order to navigate her sentences. They are beautiful sentences but are somehow constructed differently than what I am used to reading in fiction. Someday I will take the time to analyze why and how.

Because no sooner do I make the mental reset, than I am absorbed into her story. In A World of Strangers she has created a compelling main character, Tobias Hood, a man! The exclamation point is meant to show my astonishment at how she could write an entire novel in first person as a man. It works; she nailed the viewpoint completely.

Toby Hood, a young Englishman with already formed strong views about life, is sent to run the Johannesburg office of his uncle's publishing company. Raised by liberal parents post WW II, educated at Oxford, Toby is in complete rebellion against causes and wants nothing to do with the abstractions of racial issues or politics. He enjoys living the privileged life.

Johannesburg in the 1950s is a hotbed of racial issues and related politics, so A World of Strangers is a story about the awakening of political consciousness. However, compared to Doris Lessing's Martha, this awakening happens to Toby because of his interactions with people, not because of his exposure to ideas. That is what makes the novel come alive, what made me keep working through thoses sentences and wanting to find out how it would turn out for Toby.

(A World of Strangers is currently out of print. You can find it in libraries or get it from a used book seller.

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