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No Time Like the Present

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Overview

“A perfect example of what literature can give us that history books cannot.”—Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

 

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

 

Steve and Jabulile, once clandestine lovers under a racist law forbidding sexual relations between black and white, are living in a newly free South Africa. Both were combatants in the struggle against apartheid, and now, he, a university lecturer, and she, a ...

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Overview

“A perfect example of what literature can give us that history books cannot.”—Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

 

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

 

Steve and Jabulile, once clandestine lovers under a racist law forbidding sexual relations between black and white, are living in a newly free South Africa. Both were combatants in the struggle against apartheid, and now, he, a university lecturer, and she, a lawyer, are parents of children born in freedom. But as the ideals of this “better life for all” are challenged by the realities of the world around them, Steve and Jabulile consider leaving the country they so vehemently fought to free.

The subject in No Time Like the Present is contemporary, but Nadine Gordimer’s treatment is, as ever, timeless. In the telling of this conflicted couple, she captures the fragmented essence of a nation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
No Time Like the Present is Gordimer’s best novel since her first, The Lying Days.”—-Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday

 

“To read No Time Like the Present is to plunge into the cauldron that is South Africa today.... Although she is eighty-eight, Gordimer has all the enthusiasm of youth as she celebrates what she sees all around her. Her approach is kaleidoscopic.”—-Los Angeles Times

 

“Gordimer sees history, power, and a gnawing desire for something secular yet entwined in every mundane gesture. The personal remains political even when the great political fight has been won.”—-Maureen Corrigan, NPR

 

“Every once in a while, you begin to read a book and suddenly realize you are experiencing greatness. This is such a book….There are few, if any, writers today who can match Nadine Gordimer….May she never stop.”—-The Washington Times

 

Francine Prose
very much worth the trip for the sharp and affecting views of human interaction that the novel invites us to contemplate and explore…As always, Gordimer excels at pulling back for a panoramic vista of a time and place, then narrowing her focus to remind us of the highly specific ways that politics shape the private lives of unique individuals, people not unlike ourselves. Only a novelist with Gordimer's gifts can offer so much information, at such depth, about the cataclysmic battles and the rough transition to peace that she and her characters have witnessed, a war she survived to report on to us, her grateful readers.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
Praise for Nadine Gordimer:

 

“On nearly every page there’s evidence of Gordimer’s intellectual rigor, as well as the upright discipline all serious writers possess.” —Stephanie Zacharek, Los Angeles Times

 

Praise for No Time Like the Present:

 

A perfect example of what literature can give us that history books cannot. As always, Gordimer excels at pulling back for a panoramic vista of a time and place, then narrowing her focus to remind us of the highly specific ways that politics shape the private lives of unique individuals, people not unlike ourselves. Only a novelist with Gordimer’s gifts can offer so much information, at such depth, about the cataclysmic battles and the rough transition to peace that she and her characters have witnessed, a war she survived to report on to us, her grateful readers.” —Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

“With the title of this novel . . . Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer once again shows her preternatural capacity to take a slangy catchphrase and make it right to the point. And one that is absolutely appropriate to her novel's milieu and, beyond that, to its subject matter in general. To read No Time Like the Present is to plunge into the caldron that is South Africa today, a chaotic now which cannot avoid the dark shadow of a heavy past . . . Gordimer is a dedicated cicerone for the outsider wishing to explore, ready to show off every cultural nuance, hurtle through every social or political crosscurrent . . . Although she is 88, Gordimer has all the enthusiasm of youth as she celebrates what she sees all around her. Her approach is kaleidoscopic, staccato, sweeping here and there, from urban to rural, reveling in South Africa's newfound rainbow character . . . but she is alive also to the problems that threaten its stability and its continuing evolution . . . [No Time Like the Present]'s denouement is stunning in its abruptness but more powerful precisely for that reason.” —Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times

“What is more emblematic of South Africa’s liberation from apartheid than a marriage between a white man and a black woman? Following milestone collections of her short stories (Life Times, 2010) and essays (Telling Times, 2010), Nobel laureate Gordimer continues her uniquely intimate study of the evolution of freedom in her homeland in her fifteenth novel, a delving work of acrobatic stream-of-consciousness . . . In this intensely reflective novel of conscience, Gordimer dramatizes with acute specificity, wit, and sympathy the mix of guilt and conviction her freedom-fighter characters experience as they admit, ‘The Struggle is not over’ . . . The subject of this towering novel, the long aftermath of a liberation movement, is exceedingly timely in the wake of the Arab spring.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“In many ways Steve and Jabulile seem to have bridged the difficult gap from pre- to post-Apartheid life. They move to a suburb, have two children—a girl, Sindi, and a boy, Gary Elias—and seem to be living the new dream. Steve, a chemical engineer, finds a teaching position at a local university, and Jabu moves from her position as a teacher at a Catholic school to the study of law. Her native language is isiZulu, and Steve decides he wants to learn the language when Sindi is young so he can be drawn even closer to his daughter. But ripples begin to develop in their seemingly placid life, for politics in the era after Mandela is scarcely Edenic. Jacob Zuma is running for president, and he brings with him the political liability of suspicion of corruption by having enriched himself in questionable arms deals. Women are routinely raped, and Jabu is sometimes called in to help in their defense. (She finds out to her horror that one in four South African men have confessed to rape.) On the personal front, Steve attends a conference in London and has a brief but intense fling, thereby violating what had been an unshakable bond with Jabu. With the growing unrest becoming an almost daily part of their lives, Steve begins to look at the prospect of their emigrating to Australia—though he neglects to tell Jabu that he’s even considering this possibility. Against this political and personal turmoil, Jabu has centering conversations with her father, a minister with a long memory of time and history.” —Kirkus

“Gordimer burrows into the common mind of their marriage, as if to examine how a relationship that weathered the dangers of revolution will stand up to the challenges of freedom . . . In the principled world of Gordimer’s former revolutionaries, a new life elsewhere is both a promise and the biggest infidelity.” —The New Yorker

“[Gordimer’s prose] combines interior monologue, which looks back to Joyce and Woolf, with what you would call exterior monologue, delivered by an impersonal social observer in possession of a political precision that brings Orwell to mind . . . Gordimer has the tools to capture a society atomizing into chaos . . . Under its serene prose, No Time Like the Present is burning.” —Craig Seligman, Businessweek

No Time Like the Present is not so much a novel about ‘selling out’ as it is about sanely navigating around the pitfalls of normalcy; about remaining committed without fossilizing into a zealot. And, as this novel, underscores, there’s still plenty of reform needed in South Africa before anyone can fully relax into self-righteousness. Gordimer weaves in topical commentary here about the ongoing AIDS epidemic, the refugee problem and the country’s sky-high crime rate . . . Like Steve and Jabu and their friends, Gordimer herself refuses to kick back in the La-Z-Boy and let up on the intensity of her social vision and language. So many quick passages in No Time Like the Present convey the jolt of authenticity . . . Most novels these days don't look further than their front yards for their subject matter, or sometimes just the bottom of the protagonist’s shot glass; Gordimer, however, like her great Eastern European contemporary Milan Kundera, sees history, power and a gnawing desire for something secular, yet entwined in every mundane gesture. The personal remains political even when the great political fight has been won.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR

“Gordimer brings . . .  characters to life with her terse, unsentimental prose. Her writing can be poetic . . . It can also express profundity . . . Gordimer addresses many subjects, from the chemical compounds for making bombs to the circumcision practices of various groups. She paints a plethora of characters with a detailed brush. And she follows the dictum of one of her characters, that poetry is ‘the revolution against all limits of the ordinary’ . . . Readers . . . will be rewarded with a better grasp not only of South Africa but of the complexities of the human condition, which dances between striving for its dreams of justice and falling on its face in frustration.” —Gordon Hauser, The Wichita Eagle

“[Gordimer’s] life is woven into South Africa’s—the landscape, the people, the politics—in ways we rarely see anymore . . . No Time Like the Present expresses many things—pride, yes, in her country, but a great deal of disappointment, too . . . as Gordimer writes in one of her signature sentences, packed with portent and meaning: ‘Decisions always divide into practice’ . . . No Time Like the Present is Gordimer’s best novel since her first, The Lying Days, written in 1953. Old age brings wisdom, but not necessarily softening. If anything, she has whittled her expectations to a spear point, and now we must all live up to them.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday

“At 88, Gordimer is as vital, lacerating and unbowed as ever. We feel breathless trying to keep up with her, but here, as elsewhere, it’s well worth the effort.” —Emily Donaldson, The Toronto Star

“Gordimer has a love for that beautiful and conflicted country that prevails despite its many flaws and contradictions. And she doesn't fail us in her newest novel, set in post-apartheid South Africa and centred on a mixed race couple . . . There is a chilling lack of passion in her words but this in turn highlights the harshness of the choices her characters have to make . . . No Time Like the Present will break . . . hearts.” —Anne Katz, The Winnipeg Free Press

“Gordimer’s interrogation of guilt, disillusionment, society, and politics through the story of a mixed-race couple living in post-apartheid South Africa results in a superb treatise that refuses to settle into any polarity of opinions. If the novel reaches any conclusion, it is that nothing is as ‘simple as the black letters on this white page’—everything, in fact, is grey. Gordimer’s novel remains faithful to her project of relentless political engagement, critique, and challenge, a project that has always been at the core of her literary career.” —Dominic Davies, Oxonian Review

“Now, at age 88 . . . Gordimer is still serving as unflinching witness to post-apartheid South Africa. The result is a novel that shows South Africa’s rough and tenuous transition to democracy, with economic status and class now supplanting race as a source of instability and violence . . . By the end of the novel, the new South Africa has taken on a complicated shape. With her hard look at South Africa, Gordimer has made it clear there are no easy answers.” —Nina Schuyler, The Rumpus

No Time Like the Present shows no diminishment in [Gordimer’s] even-handed attention to narrative and justice . . . [A] complex, probing novel . . . The political aspects of Gordimer’s fiction are prismatic: Her multilayered stories are sensuously vivid yet also reveal hidden properties. Even career choice is a luxury for her social activists . . . Nadine Gordimer continues to write some of the—if not the—most nuanced, attentive and vibrant political novels in English.” —Darryl Whetter, The Globe and Mail

“Every once in a while, you begin to read a book and suddenly realize you are experiencing greatness. This is such a book. In a way, it should come as no surprise. Nadine Gordimer is, arguably, South Africa’s greatest living novelist . . . the meaning and the people spring to life on every page, and we know them as living, breathing human beings with real problems . . . No Time Like the Present is the author’s 15th novel. It goes up on a long shelf: 11 short-story collections and seven books of essays. Born in 1923, she wrote her first book in 1949. May she never stop.” —John Greenya, The Washington Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250024039
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 2/5/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 712,607
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nadine Gordimer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, is the author of fourteen novels, more than ten volumes of stories, and three nonfiction collections. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Read an Excerpt

There was a Pleistocene Age, a Bronze Age, an Iron Age.

It seemed an Age was over. Surely nothing less than a New Age when the law is not promulgated on pigment, anyone may live and move and work anywhere in a country commonly theirs. Something with the conventional title ‘Constitution’ flung this open wide. Only a grandiose vocabulary can contain the meaning for the millions who had none recognised of the rights that go by the word freedom.

The consequences are many among the aspects of human relationships that used to be restricted by decree. On the tenants’ mailboxes there are some African names: a doctor, a lecturer at a university and a woman making a career for herself in the opportunity of business. Jabulile and Steve could go to the cinema, eat in restaurants, stay in hotels together. When she gave birth to their daughter this was in a clinic where she would not have been admitted—before. It’s a normal life, not a miracle. It was made by human struggle.

He had been interested in science from an early childhood and studied industrial chemistry at university. His parents saw this as at least some hope of antidote, insurance for his future in contrast to the leftist activities against the regime that led to his disappearing apparently over the border somewhere for periods; he would have a respectable profession. They were never to know how useful his knowledge of chemical elements was to the group who were learning how to make explosives for targets such as power installations. When he graduated, the junior post he found in a large paint factory was indeed a useful cover for a suspect way of life, political and sexual.

Ambition. Wasn’t a time, then, to think about what you really might want to do with your life. The compass within swung the needle firmly back to the single pole—until the distortion of human life in common was ended, there was no space for meaning in personal achievement, climb Mount Everest or get rich, all cop-outs from reality, indecent sign of being on the side of no change.

Now there was no reason why he should continue to research advances in the durability of paint for new varieties of construction and decorative purposes, from rooftops to jukeboxes, bedrooms to sports convertibles. He supposed he could have returned to a university to further his knowledge of other branches of chemistry and physics, not confined to appearances. But there was a child for whom he and she had to provide a home. He did his work well anyway without much interest, there was no spice left as there had been in knowing that at the same time as (literally) keeping up appearances for white industry he was making explosives to blow up the regime. The firm had a number of countrywide branches, he was advanced in this one, the headquarters where he had begun. If he didn’t make a decision, as he kept considering, to reconsider test-tube chemistry and move into the other kind, between humans, non-governmental, non-profit making, he worked part-time voluntarily on a commission for land claims of communities dispossessed under the past regime. She studied by correspondence, economics and law, and was volunteer secretary to a women’s action group against woman and child abuse. Their small Sindiswa was in day care; what little time was left they spent with her.

They were sitting on their Glengrove Place balcony just after sunset among the racks of child’s clothes draped to dry. A motorbike ripped the street like a sheet of paper roughly torn.

Both looked up from companionable silence, her mouth slewed, the curve of the brows pencilled on her smooth fore- head flown up. It was time for the news; the radio lay on the floor with his beer. But instead he spoke.

—We should move. What d’you think. Have a house.—

—Wha’d’ you mean—

He’s smiling almost patronisingly. —What I say. House—

—We don’t have money.—

—I’m not talking about buying. Renting a house somewhere.—

She half-circled her head, trying to follow his thought.

—One of the suburbs where whites have switched to town house enclosures. A few comrades have found places to rent.—

—Who?—

—Peter Mkize, I think. Isa and Jake.—

—Have you been there?—

—Of course not. But Jake was saying when we were at the Commission on Thursday, they’re renting near a good school where their boys could go.—

—Sindiswa doesn’t need a school.— She laughed and as if in a derisive agreement the child hiccupped over the biscuit she was eating.

—He says the streets are quiet.—

So it is the motorbike that has ripped open the thought.

—Old trees there.—

You never know when you’ve rid yourself of the trappings of outdated life, come back subconsciously: it’s some privileges of the white suburb where he grew up that come to her man now. He doesn’t know—she does—lying in his mind it’s the Reed home whose segregation from reality he has left behind for ever. How could she not understand: right there in the midst of enacting her freedom independence, when one of her brothers, the elder of course, dismisses her opinion of some

family conduct directed by custom, she finds what her studies by correspondence would call an atavistic voice of submission replacing the one in her throat.

He is saying as he lifts Sindiswa flying high on the way to bedtime (fathering is something the older generation, white and black, segregated themselves from)—She’ll need a good school nearby soon enough.—

In the dark, withheld hours of quiet, two, three, in the morning, you don’t know what is going on in the mind-rhythm of the one breathing beside you. Maybe there tore through the unconscious an echo of what prompted the idea that sunset a week—some days—ago.

Jake Anderson calls to ask whether he and Isa had been forgotten lately, would their comrades come by on Sunday— whether this was prompted by he who slept against her, she wasn’t told. Anyway, it meant that they bundled Sindiswa and a couple of bottles of wine into the car and took the free- way to an exit unfamiliar. It debouched on streets brooded over by straggly pepper trees drooping their age and what must be jacarandas, but not in bloom, whose roots humped the pavements. The houses all revealed somewhere in their improvements their origin: front stoep, room ranged on either side under rigid tin roof, although some had additions, sliding glass-fronted, somehow achieved in the space of each narrow plot within walls or creeper-covered fences defining the limit between neighbours. Apparently following Jake’s directions Steve slowed at what appeared to be a small red-brick church peaking among the houses, but as he drove past to take a left turn, revealed a swimming pool contrived where the church porch must have been, and three or four young men or perhaps determinedly youthful older ones, in G-string swimming briefs were dancing and tackling one another in the water to the sound of loud reggae. In the small gardens of other houses there were the expected bicycles, garden chairs and barbeque jumble. Jake’s was one of them. The standard stoep had been extended by a pergola sheltered by a grape vine. There was a car and a motorbike in the street at the gate, a party evidently. Well, no, just a few comrades remembering to get together, out of the different paths their lives were taking.

They’re all young but it’s as if they are old men living in the past, there everything happened. Their experience of life defined: now is everything after. Detention cells, the anecdotes from camp in Angola, the misunderstanding with the Cubans who came—so determinately, idealistically brave— to support this Struggle at the risk of their own lives, the clash of personalities, personal habits in the isolation of cadres, all contained by comradeship of danger, the presence of death eavesdropping always close by in the desert, the bush. Peter Mkize is at this Sunday gathering, taking a hand at expertly turning chops and sausages on the charcoal grill under the grape vine, a beer in the other hand. His brother was one of those who were captured and killed, their dismembered bodies burned at a braaivleis by drunken white South African soldiers and thrown into the Komati River, a frontier between this country and Mozambique. That history, may it not come back to him as he flips over the spitting sausages for the comrades.

Now everything is after.

Steve feels a breath of rejection lifting his lungs. What they did then, some of those present much braver and enduring hell beyond anything he risked, anything Jabu, herself black, inevitable victim, took on—it can’t be the sum of life experience? To close away from this he tosses a personal distraction.

—Jake, where’s the house you were telling me about. Like to have a look at it.—

—Sure, plenty time. Have another glass of this great wine you brought, while the sun goes down.—

Jabulile smiles, the patronage of intimacy. —He has a sudden urge to move.—

Move on. Yes, let’s move on. —Is it in this street?—

—No, but we’ll still be neighbours. It’s a couple of houses down from where you turned to our street.—

—Before that weird-looking place that looks as if it was a church? There were some guys dancing in a mini pool there.—

—Was a church, this is an old ware Boer suburb, no Kaffirs allowed to come to Jesus at the altar of apartheid, blankes alleen.—

Everyone laughing release from the past. Spread hands thrown up and head dropped in mock responsibility for the guilt of the generation of his mother and father, Pierre du Preez is the one who arrived on the caparisoned motorcycle parked outside, as elaborately accoutred as some royal carriage, flashing flanks, sculptured saddle, festooned with flasks and gauges. He’s an Afrikaner who no more takes offence at the gibes than Mkize does at the outlawed word, Kaffir.

—Who are the frolicking owners who’ve taken over?—

Pierre answers whomever’s question. —It’s one of our gay families.—

More laughter—this is the final blasphemy, housed.

Jake signals to Steve, leaving Isa to take care of the comrades. Jabu in turn signals she is enjoying herself and doesn’t want to be interrupted but Steve’s arm goes gently decisive around her and the three move unnoticed to follow past the church swimming pool to the next street to look at the house with FOR SALE TO LET board on the wall.

—Shit, it seems it’s not a show day, usually at weekends

. . . where’s the agent got to? I hope it hasn’t been snapped up since I told you.—

—Live behind a spiked wall.— Steve hasn’t counted on that.

Through the pattern of the wrought-iron gate they saw something of what is behind it. There is a modest representation of the setting of the house he grew up in: a rockery with aloes in flower, a jacaranda tree, a neat mat of lawn either side of a path to steps and the front door. No clue to the previous inhabitants—oh, except a rusted braaivleis grill and a kennel with half the roof missing.

—There’s a garage at the back, another gate and, believe it or not, an old chicken run.— Jake is standing in for an estate agent’s hard sell, in his purpose of making some kind of community out of dispersed comrades, in this suburb claimed against the past.

Back at Glengrove Place Steve holds a towel ready while Jabu coaxes their small girl out of the bath. In the steam haze his voice is softened as reflection rather than question, he doesn’t want to press her.

—What do you think of it?—

The gathering, the house, the church as gay commune something to laugh about together; and something not to be avoided, the practical future there was no time to think about from Glengrove asylum, before.

She’s a clear-headed person always capable of occupying her hands in some task while active elsewhere in her mind. —It’s a nice house, far as you can tell from the outside.—

—Of course I’ll get the estate agent to take us, or give us the keys, that’d be better, next week. But the set-up, the place.—

—How can I say. I don’t have any comparison, I mean I’ve never lived in such places, suburbs, whatever, have I.— Smiling, whether at the wriggling child she was patting dry, or for him.

—I rather like the idea.— He doesn’t have to explain, taking over from the Boere, if even Pierre welcomed the displacement of his own clan, although everyone is supposed to live together, no ghettos, luxurious or new black-and-white middle class.

Alone, if you can be said to be while those whose being you share are somewhere close by in kitchen or bedroom; not lonely, he wonders whether he really wants to prolong in some way the intimacy between comrades that was survival in detention or the bush, there’s a resistance to nostalgia. And at the same time self-reproach; what will there ever be like the bonds between cadres, the rest will always be strangers.

Jake gave him the name of the estate agent and offered to accompany them to enter the house, but they wanted to be without anyone else’s observations and went, after work, with Sindiswa; after all, without offering any opinion, she would be subject to any decision made. He found the bedrooms poky, you could knock out the windows and put in something more generous with light. There was a red-brick fireplace thirties- style in the living room and space enough for a good-sized table and chairs along with sofa, television and so on. A rather shaky sliding door, obviously an improvement on the enclosing box that was the original room, opened onto another improvement, a small terrace. They were pleased to walk out and find shrubs beyond that half-hid the wall that was over- hung with shade from a neighbour’s tree —Acacia.— But she was not interested in the identification. As a kid given every advantage he was taken to plant nurseries with his father and learnt to match botanical names to certain trunks, leaves and bark. She had learnt on walks with her grandmother in the forests of Zululand what wild fruits were safe and good to eat.

The kitchen was a surprise. She tried the four plates on the big electric stove—no result. —Just that the current’s cut off, of course.— He reassured, opening cupboards. They moved their feet approvingly on the tiled floor; Jabu peered into the shelves to confirm capacity. The bathroom had a shower stall as well as a large tub, not bad, ay? The paint through- out was in good condition although candy pink in what was supposed to the main bedroom made him groan. —We could put a lick of white over it, I suppose—I don’t know if you’re allowed to make any changes in a house you rent?— They toured the rooms again, hand in hand with Sindiswa. —She’d have her own room, toys and all her gear— Jabu touched her head against his shoulder a moment; at Glengrove Place they shared the single bedroom with the child, strange to make love with even a sentient in the room; who knew how much a young child is aware of, perhaps the cries of pleasure sound fearful to an emerging awareness. They checked the sliding door to the terrace and locked the front door behind them in unspoken accord.

But next morning, the reality of Monday, driving the child to the day-care centre—Jabu took a bus to her school from there while he went on to the city—putting a hand down on the keys in his pocket —I’ll go to the agency and sign for us.—

She drew her lips hidden between her teeth, her familiar gesture of acceptance. When she got out of the car to deliver Sindi, suddenly kissed him. Coming back to the car, her eyes were held narrowed as if she were seeing some inner vision. He read it as, we’ll be happy there.

Decisions always divide into practice. They had to give notice of vacating Glengrove, and it turned out several months’ advice in advance was required. He negotiated this successfully and the stipulation was reduced to one month. As for the house, Jake knew the agent well and the rent was not unaffordably higher than the apartment’s had been, on the guarantee to the owner that although the woman was black these were reliable tenants who wouldn’t fill the house with immigrant refugees or whatever they were from Congo and Zimbabwe, property values must not be allowed to go down as the result of rowdiness. Well, at least the condition wasn’t gender prejudice, they didn’t have to worry about moving into a mini-community where that prevailed. The gays could enjoy their holy pool. Some of the things that had been made do with in Glengrove, second- or third-hand necessities given by comrades when they first clandestinely moved in there, were not worth taking; new purchases, in keeping with a house, had to be made. A table and chairs for the living room—at Glengrove they ate in the kitchen or off the coffee table in the all-purpose room. Jabulile wanted a large refrigerator and freezer, to be paid off along with the furniture on the never-never instalment plan, it was the usual way in the communities she knew, but Steve was alert to how business economy worked to its own advantage, charging hidden interest on the amounts the poor paid every month. He would buy only what they had money to pay for on purchase—these are just trivial differences born of background which come up not only between a couple like theirs. The curtains: on the other hand, she knew a woman in Kliptown (old Location), mother of a colleague teacher, who would make them in her home at a cost below any decorator’s shop. They were completed and could be hung—Jake and Isa helped, it was fun—before the actual move to the house would take place.

On the morning of the move Jabulile took charge. She bustled authoritatively between the men handling the card- board cases he and she had filled the night before, herself correcting the carelessness with which they ignored the bold FRAGILE with which some had been carefully marked. Her reproaches were joking, she laughed with the men encouragingly. Displacement made everything unfamiliar to him, out of mind, as if they had never lived there—he was already, as if going home, in the house. He thought it unnecessary when Jabu made tea for the movers, just a delay. But she took mugs out of one of the boxes, talking in the language she shared with the men and he couldn’t follow. To speed things up he broke into her hospitality and quickly took back the emptied mugs with a gesture that they be left behind, not bothering to wash and pack them up again. He became authoritative now, giving a heaving arm to despatch of the boxes to the elevator, ready when it rose again to load it once more. She continued the laughing exchange in their common language with the men, darting back to the kitchen and bedroom to check what she must have already known, that nothing was missed, left behind. With the last batch he squeezed in to go down and help, hasten the loading of the van. The movers had been put in a good mood and took their time, arguing about the placing, how the bed, those chairs, could go here, that box balanced there. At last the double doors were barred across. He and Jabu could follow, with keys to the new kingdom. He had already taken the car out of Glengrove Place’s underground garage; for the last time.

The elevator was in use, he bounded up three flights of stairs three steps at a time as if he were a schoolboy again and called out at the top, Let’s go!

His stride almost stumbled: she pressed further against the door frame.

—What’s been forgotten?—

She moved her head slightly in dismissal, and he was stayed.

It was nothing he could put a name, a cause to, ask what’s the matter would be some sort of intrusion. Although it’s impossible to accept that there are times when the trust of intimacy fails. She said very distinctly, I don’t want to go. It resounded in his silence as if she had shouted. She was so known to him, the pillars of her thighs close together, the line of her neck he would follow with buried face to her breasts, yet this was someone he couldn’t approach in whatever was happening. How say stupidly, what’s wrong.

Of course she is thrilled delighted with the house, the terrace where she’s looking forward to putting out their child to play in the sun . . . she had planned zestfully how the rooms would serve them, she agreed that he could sign for occupancy. I don’t want to go. She knows it has no meaning; they are gone, it remains only to close the door and drop the keys with the caretaker.

Nothing could break the moment. Carrying the bride over the threshold was in his embrace. She didn’t cry but took a few rough broken breaths. Her breasts pressed familiarly against him. He didn’t ask, she didn’t tell.

Leave behind, a drop into space. From the place that took them in when nowhere, no one allowed them to be together as a man and a woman. The clandestine life is the precious human secret, the law didn’t allow, the church wouldn’t marry you, neither his for whites nor hers for blacks. Glengrove Place. The place. Our place.

Isa, Jake and Peter Mkize surprised them that first night, arriving with Isa’s chicken and mushroom stew to heat up for the first time use of the stove, wine for which glasses were dug out of packing boxes. Jabu was putting Sindiswa to sleep alone in her own room. —Khale, Khale, take it easy getting her accustomed to things. If I were you I’d keep her at her old day care for a bit before you move her to the one that’s nearer.— Isa, the senior resident, wants to be useful. Slowly, careful. Comrades, even if white, find expressive the few words in the languages of black comrades they’ve picked up. The presence of the three neighbours in the impersonal chaos of displaced objects is order of a kind. They slept well, the new tenants.

On Sunday someone shook at the wrought-iron gate for attention and there was one of the dolphin-men from the church pool holding a potted hibiscus. —Hi, welcome to the residents’ association, there isn’t one but make yourselves at home anyway.— In shared laughter of the unexpected they gestured him in for coffee but he couldn’t stay, was due to make a jambalaya lunch, his turn to cook. —Come and swim when you feel like it, it’s a teacup, but it’s a cooler . . . In the afternoon when they tired of unpacking Jabu decided they should take Sindiswa on a walk and they passed the fondly mock-wrestling water, as they had seen the day they came to find Jake’s house. Jabu lifted Sindiswa’s little arm to wave a hand at the revellers.

Copyright © 2011 by Nadine Gordimer. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Picador USA and Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2012

    Very well written

    This is one of the most beautiful books I ever read! You feel the character's emotions, and the author makes ordinary events compelling. You feel what apraheid left behind and how there is still some of it left.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 15, 2012

    didn't like it

    I wanted to read this for a book club, but could not get past a couple of chapters and have given up on it.

    This was written by a reputable, highly praised author, so it could be me. However, my impression was that it was written in a dense style in which the structure of a sentence was wrested from its usual flow into a collection of words to be pondered, worked on, I want to say, unscrambled. I do not believe this added to the novel and in my case it sunk it.

    Additionally, the personalities of the mixed-marriage couple were flat and showed no indivuality beyond the contrast between how a black woman in South Africa was raised versus how a white man was raised. They just seemed to be types that went along with South African society.

    Terrorism is presented as the thing to do. I don't agree, even when the cause is socially popular.

    Maybe if I read further I would have changed my opinion, but the experience was so unpleasant I guess I'll never know.

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  • Posted May 8, 2012

    Minor Gordimer

    No Time Like The Present is one of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer's minor pieces of fiction. The writing is strained and thick; the characters not fully fleshed and the overall impact only a whisper where it needed a shout. I am a Gordimer fan, and this fiction was a big disappointment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Good ideas presented in terrible prose make this book a frustrat

    Good ideas presented in terrible prose make this book a frustrating read. This is just poor craftmanship.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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