Picks and Pans Review: Something Out There

updated 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Nadine Gordimer

Gordimer, a 60-year-old South African, is a proclaimed enemy of her homeland's white racist regime; she lives in Johannesburg. This is her ninth collection of short stories (she has also written eight novels). In its 10 tales she again casts her meticulously observant eye upon apartheid's inequalities, expressing her political judgments through portraits of both victims and oppressors. In the brief, poignant Crimes of Conscience, for instance, a young female activist meets a South African man who claims to have been enlightened politically by years spent working in Europe. Their natural affinity leads to a love affair; unknown to her, he has been secretly recruited abroad by the South African government to spy on potential troublemakers. Blinder tells the story of Rose, a black housekeeper in Johannesburg whose lover—a migrant city worker—is killed in a bus crash while returning to his Bantustan, the black reservation where his wife and children live. Through Rose's anguish and confusion, the cruelty of South Africa's system of labor, which forces many blacks into living two disparate lives, is revealed in powerful human terms. The title novella is part allegory, part suspense story. As the complacent citizens of Johannesburg's white suburbs are terrorized by a mysterious monkeylike creature, a team of subversives works under their noses, plotting to blow up a power station. Not all of Gordimer's stories are political: Letter From His Father bears a humorous grave-to-grave message to Franz Kafka from his oft-maligned dad. Gordimer's writing is marked by compassion, unsparing vision and needle-sharp description ("Her thin, knobbly little hands were like tools laid upon the Formica counter of the coffee bar"). No wonder she is so often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. (Viking, $15.95)

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