Going Home

Overview

"Africa belongs to the Africans; the sooner they take it back the better. But—a country also belongs to those who feel at home in it. Perhaps it may be that love of Africa the country will be strong enough to link people who hate each other now. Perhaps..."

Going Home is Doris Lessing's account of her first journey back to Africa, the land in which she grew up and in which so much of her emotion and her concern are still invested. Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1956, she found that her love of Africa had ...

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Going Home

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Overview

"Africa belongs to the Africans; the sooner they take it back the better. But—a country also belongs to those who feel at home in it. Perhaps it may be that love of Africa the country will be strong enough to link people who hate each other now. Perhaps..."

Going Home is Doris Lessing's account of her first journey back to Africa, the land in which she grew up and in which so much of her emotion and her concern are still invested. Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1956, she found that her love of Africa had remained as strong as her hatred of the idea of "white supremacy" espoused by its ruling class. Going Home evokes brilliantly the experience of thepeople, black and white, who have shaped and will shape a beloved country.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060976309
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1996
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, Doris Lessing was one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of our time, the recipient of a host of international awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award, the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, the James Tait Black Prize for best biography, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize and Prix Catalunya, and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature.

Biography

"Doris Lessing is the kind of writer who has followers, not just readers," Lesley Hazleton once observed. But the Nobel Prize-winning Lessing, whose classic novel The Golden Notebook was embraced as a feminist icon, has seldom told her followers exactly what they wanted to hear. For much of her career, she has frustrated readers' expectations and thwarted would-be experts on her work, penning everything from traditional narratives to postmodern novels to mystic fables.

Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) and grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where her father made an unsuccessful attempt to farm maize. Though she loved living on the farm, her family life was often tense and unhappy. Lessing married at the age of 20, but three years later, feeling stifled by colonial life and increasingly distressed by the racism of her society, she joined the Communist Party, "because they were the only people I had ever met who fought the color bar in their lives."

Soon after that, she left her husband and first two children to marry fellow Communist Gottfried Lessing, with whom she had a son. They divorced, and she took her son with her to England, where she published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, to high acclaim. After several more novels, including the semi-autobiographical series Children of Violence, Lessing wrote The Golden Notebook, a postmodern, fragmentary narrative about a writer's search for identity. The Golden Notebook gained a passionate following in the feminist movement and "left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women," as Elizabeth Hardwick wrote.

To Lessing's dismay, she was frequently cited as a "feminist writer" after that. Yet as Diane Johnson pointed out in a 1978 review of Stories, Lessing "also understands men, politics, social class, striving, religion, loneliness and lust." Johnson added: "Mrs. Lessing is the great realist writer of our time, in the tradition of the major Continental novelists of the 19th century, particularly Stendhal and Balzac, but also Turgenev and Chekhov -- a masculine tradition with which she shares large moral concerns, an earnest and affirmative view of human nature, and a dead-eye for social types."

But Lessing, who once called realist fiction "the highest form of prose writing," soon launched into a science-fiction series, Canopus in Argos: Archives, which baffled many of her fans. Lessing used the term "space fiction" for the series, which recounts human history from the points of view of various extraterrestrial beings. Though Lessing gained some new readers with her Canopus series, her early admirers were relieved when she came back to Earth in The Fifth Child, the story of a monstrous child born to ordinary suburban parents, which Carolyn Kizer deemed "a minor classic." Later novels like Mara and Dann included elements of fantasy and science fiction, but recently, with the publication of The Sweetest Dream, Lessing has returned to domestic fiction in the realist mode, which many critics still see as her best form.

Throughout her life, Lessing has been drawn to systems for improving human experience -- first Marxism, then the psychiatry of R. D. Laing, then Sufi mysticism. But her yearning for a single, transcendent truth coexists with a sharp awareness of the contradictory mix of vanities, passions, and aggressions that make up most human lives. As Margaret Drabble noted, Lessing is "one of the very few novelists who have refused to believe that the world is too complicated to understand."

Good To Know

Lessing's African stories painted a grim picture of white colonialism and the oppression of black Africans, and in 1956, Lessing was declared a prohibited alien in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. In 1995, she was able to visit her daughter and grandchildren in South Africa, where her works are now acclaimed for the same content that was once condemned.

Though she was briefly allied with the Communist Party in Salisbury, Lessing has frequently insisted that the picture of her as a political activist is exaggerated. "I am always being described as having views that I never had in my life," she once told the Guardian. She has, however, been an outspoken critic of the racial politics of South Africa, and she once turned down the chance to become a Dame of the British Empire on the grounds that there is no British Empire.

To demonstrate how difficult it is for new writers to get published, Lessing sent a manuscript to her publishers under the pseudonym Jane Somers. Her British publisher turned it down, as did several other prominent publishers (though her American editor detected the ruse and accepted the book). The Diary of a Good Neighbour was published as the work of Jane Somers, to little fanfare and mixed critical reviews. Lessing followed it with a sequel, If the Old Could..., before revealing her identity as the author of both.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Doris May Tayler (birth name), Jane Somers (pseudonym)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 22, 1919
    2. Place of Birth:
      Persia (now Iran)
    1. Date of Death:
      November 17, 2013
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Read an Excerpt

Over the plains of Ethiopia the sun rose as I had not seen it in seven years. A big, cool, empty sky flushed a little above a rim of dark mountains. The landscape 20,000 feet below gathered itself from the dark and showed a pale gleam of grass, a sheen of water. The red deepened and pulsed, radiating streaks of fire. There hung the sun, like a luminous spider's egg, or a white pearl, just below the rim of the, mountains. Suddenly it swelled, turned red, roared over the horizon and drove up the sky like a train engine. I knew how far below in the swelling heat the birds were an orchestra in the trees about the villages of mud huts; how the long grass was straightening while dangling flocks of dewdrops dwindled and dried; how the people were moving out into the fields about the business of herding and hoeing.

Here is where the sun regulates living in a twelve-hour cycle. Here the sun is a creature of the same stuff as oneself; powerful and angry, but at least responsive, and no mere dispenser of pale candlepower.

When I was first in England I was disturbed all the time in my deepest sense of probability because the sun went down at four in the middle of an active afternoon, filling a cold, damp, remote sky with false pathos. Or, at eleven in the morning, instead of blazing down direct, a hand's-span from centre, it would appear on a slant and in the wrong place, at eight o'clock position, a swollen, misshapen, watery ghost of a thing peering behind chimney-pots. The sun in England should be feminine, as it is in Germany.

During that first year in England, I had a vision of London. I cannot recall now. Recently I found some pages I wrote then: it was anightmare city that I lived in for a year; endless miles of heavy, damp, dead building on a dead, sour earth, inhabited by pale, misshapen, sonless creatures under a low sky of grey vapour.

Then, one evening, walking across the park, the light welded buildings, tress and scarlet buses into something familiar and beautiful, and I knew myself to be at home. Now London is to me the pleasantest of cities, full of the most friendly and companionable people. But that year of horrible estrangement from everything around me was real enough. It was because, bred in Africa, I needed to be in direct physical touch with what I saw; I needed the cycle of hot, strong light, of full, strong dark.

One does not look at London, but at a pretty house, a glimpse of trees over rooftops, the remains of an old street, a single block of flats. The eye learns to reject the intolerable burden of the repetition of commercialization. It is the variegated light of London which creates it; at night, the mauvish wet illumination of the city sky; or the pattern of black shadow-leaves on a wall; or, when the sun emerges, the instant gaiety of a pavement.

On that morning over Africa I learned that I had turned myself inwards, had become a curtain-drawer, a fire-hugger, the inhabitant of a cocoon. Easy enough to turn outwards I felt I had never, left at all. This was my air, my landscape, and above all, my sun.

Africa belongs to the Africans; the sooner they take it back the better. But-a country also belongs to those who feel at home in it. Perhaps it may be that the love of Africa the country will be strong enough to link people who hate each other now. Perhaps.

On this trip home a man with whom I had been arguing bitterly about politics said to me suddenly: Where did I come from? I said Lomagundi. He knew it well, he said. He liked the highveld, he remarked, defensively. For the highveld is reaches of pale, dry grass, studded with small, dry, stunted trees-wide, empty, barren country. I said yes, and the Kalahari, too. Yes, he said; and the Karroo. and the Kalahari and the Karroo are stages nearer desert of the highveld, full of bitter shrubs, cacti, lizards and hot stones. They are enormous, with a scarifying, barren beauty. They, too are almost empty.

For a moment we shared the understanding of people whohave been made by the same Iandscape.

But I am not sure whether this passion for emptiness, for space, I only has meaning in relation, to Europe. Africa is scattered all over with white men who push out and away from cities and people, to remote farms and outposts, seeking solitude. But perhaps all they need is to leave the seethe and the burden of Europe behind.

I remember an old prospector came to our farm one evening when I was a child. He had spent all his life wandering around Africa. He said he had just gone home to England for a holiday of six months, but left at the end of a week. Too many people, he said.; a tame little country, catching trains and keeping to time-tables. He had, learned his lesson; he would never leave the highveld again. 'People,' he said shouting at himself-for, he was certainly arguing against his own conscience—people are mad, wanting to change Africa. Why don't they leave it alone? A man can breathe here, he can be himself. And,' he went on, getting angrier and angrier, 'when we've filled Africa up, what then? The world is, only tolerable because of the empty places in it-millions of people all crowded together, fighting and struggling, but behind them, somewhere, enormous, empty places. I tell you what I think,' he said, 'when the world's filled up, we'll have to get hold of a star. Any star. Venus, or Mars. Get hold of it and leave it empty. Man needs an empty space somewhere for his spirit to rest in.'

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