Collected here are 23 biographical and autobiographical pieces, reviews, travelogues and analytical essays on writing, censorship and South African politics. They date from an article written in 1963, in which Gordimer recalls how her writing career began, to one from 1985 which includes her assessment of the states of mind and ways of life in today's South Africa. From these essays emerges a history of changing life under apartheid, the transformations in Gordimer's sense of identity as well as the constancy of her conviction and approach, the reality and ambiguity of her marginality, the daily compromises and contradictions in her situation, her quest for a wholeness of vision. These pieces are eloquent testimony to the fact that, over the last three decades, this fine novelist and short-story writer has been at the center of developments in her homeland``a writer working through the political implications of her writing, writing about the implications of politics.'' (Nov.)
Contrary to expectation, neither of these two books from prominent members of South Africa's writerly community concerns the craft of fiction or even things literary; they tend much more to social and political commentary. Paton's book is actually a continuation of Towards the Mountain ( LJ 9/15/80), but it is less mystical/global than the earlier book. Although classed as a biography, it does not reveal much about Paton's interior psychology or literary tastes; what one gets is his life set against the backdrop of events in South African history with which he was intimately involved as a world literary figure and social activist. His dissent is always emphatically stated. Gordimer's book, in contrast, is a collection of essays. The writing is sharper, the vocabulary heavier, the allusion thicker, but the theme similar: racial prejudice is abhorrent, especially when governmentally sanctioned, and it is the writer's responsibility to speak the truth. She deals a bit more with writers' concernsparticularly with literature as a revolutionary form, censorship matters, etc.and also provides more color, landscapes, images. But the core of the book is again social history and dissent from ``official'' South African norms. Paton's book is recommended for its straightforward, uncompromising account, Gordimer's for its combative shrewdness; both belong in all academic and larger public libraries.Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.