Story Club #3: An Unequal Life

Story club seems to be jinxed! First I wanted it (rather ambitiously I admit) to be a weekly affair, then a fortnightly before settling for a monthly event. And then I went and missed last month’s book club. And I was all set to miss this month’s as well.

But then I didn’t want the ‘jinx’ have the last laugh. So here I am with this month’s short story – Country Lovers by Nadine Gordimer.

Nadine Gordimer, a South African writer and political activist, started writing at the age of nine, and her stories began appearing in magazines when she was 15. She was shocked by the condition of the black community and spoke out strongly against the apartheid system existing in her country. Apparently, after being released from prison in 1990, she was one the first persons that Nelson Mandela met. Many of her books were banned in her home country and she spent many years outside her country in self-imposed exile. In 1991, at 67 years of age, she became South Africa’s first Nobel Prize winner for Literature.

I had a brief encounter with the writings of Nadine Gordimer around this time, or perhaps a bit earlier. Seeing my interest in books, someone had gifted me Nadine Gordimer’s Six Feet of the Country. Being a compulsive reader, I had read the book of course (at least I think so) but somehow I didn’t quite take to it. Perhaps I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate it or I tried to give it the usual casual reading that I was used to giving the crime thrillers and suspense novels I was more into those days. But what is truly ironic is that today’s story – Country Lovers – is one of the 7 stories of that very book.

I feel like kicking myself. To have a priceless gem somewhere around the house and to have no clue – how callous (and ignoramus) can one be? How many more such priceless gems have I missed? And here I always thought I was bright, perhaps even clever – just like Rabbit.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Oh well…I think I prefer this one 😉

Men do not understand books until they have a certain amount of life, or at any rate no man understands a deep book, until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents –Ezra Pound

Moving on to the story – and if you haven’t read the story yet, perhaps you should do so now (link is given above) before scrolling down for there are spoilers ahead.

Country Lovers is an interracial (hence forbidden) love story of childhood friends turned sweethearts – Thebedi, the black girl and Paulus the white farmer’s son. There is almost a bland detached matter-of-fact narration of the events as they unfold. The children play together and become close friends. Defying norms, he continues to visit her while home from his boarding school and one cannot help but feel the affection and connection they both share. He brings her gifts as does she:

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They seek each other out.

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One almost feels that things will be different for this couple, that they would have a future – together.

But then as is wont to be, one thing led to another and she becomes pregnant. For a modern day reader this is where the story diverges and takes off on a different path. Logically speaking she should have then informed Paulus. But she doesn’t. And neither does she tell him of her impending marriage to Njabulo. She even gets married and delivers a baby girl within two months of her marriage. Even that is acceptable as is the fact that the child is unmistakably white. Njabulo provides for Thebedi’s child as much as is possible with his income.

Things could have carried on so but for word reaching Paulus’ ears about Thebedi’s child. He lands up to investigate for himself. And there is no denying – she is his child.

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Grimace of tears and anger – overwhelmed at seeing his daughter? Or perhaps cursing his fate that he is unable to publicly acknowledge his beloved and daughter? Hey wait a minute…and self-pity? Like really? The gentle, laid back placid pace of the story takes a sudden turn and one is quite unprepared for it. At least I was.

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Instead of killing himself, he killed his baby…

No! That couldn’t be possible. And why take such a drastic step? Nobody had pointed fingers at him – not Thebedi, not her husband, not the community people. Yet he killed his baby. Why?Just to save his reputation? Unbelievable.

Yet all too true. In many places, even today.

In a show of justice, Paulus is arrested but let off for lack of evidence and unreliability of Thebedi as a witness. Njabulo is commended for his fortitude and forbearance.

Through her writing Gordimer has vividly recorded life in a controversial country. I did read some of the analysis of the story that are available on the net. Most, if not all, make a note of female exploitation highlighted in the story.

To be honest, I found Njabulo’s situation to be equally tragic and pathetic. As was that of the rest of the community. Their acceptance of the situation as if it was par for the course is almost eerie and unbelievable. It only indicates how common such events were, that it did not even deserve a protest.

Njabulo comes out as a strong principled character that is rare and difficult to find. Rather than make the child, who is not at fault or even Thebedi suffer, Njabulo goes about making his family as comfortable was possible for him. An uncommon man indeed.

I cannot help but be a bit cynical about Thebedi – she is the dark enigmatic one. Her actions are quite unfathomable. She is happy to follow Paulus’ lead but she is content to marry Njabulo. She accuses Paulus of killing her daughter but retracts it a year later (perhaps she was pressurized into doing so) all the while wearing the earrings that Paulus had gifted her.I did find this significant – did the author wish to make a point about Thebedi’s duality or stress that she was too poor to buy another pair of earrings? I wonder, if before marrying Njabulo, did she tell him about Paulus, or her pregnancy – if the baby was born 2 months after marriage, he could have hardly not known about it?

I wish I could have known more about Njabulo, his feelings, reactions and thoughts as the events unfolded and played out for him.

For me, Country Lovers is not about Paulus and Thebedi. It is about Njabulo and his unwavering and steadfast support for Thebedi. If that is not love what is?

Thanks for reading– don’t forget to leave your comments and suggestions.

If anyone is interested or motivated enough to join the Story Club – most welcome! Just create a pingback to this post so that we can hop over for a read.

Rules are simple:

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  1. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  1. Bloggers should post on their blog while non-bloggers may email me – mysilverstreaks@gmail.com
  1. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before.
  1. And of course have fun!

You can find the previous Story Club posts here and here

A selection of Nadine Gordimer quotes

Truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.

Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.

The facts are always less than what really happened.

A truly living human being cannot remain neutral

My answer is: Recognize yourself in others

I would be guilty only if I were innocent of working to destroy racism in my country

Looking forward to a lively interaction, comments, critiques, suggestions, opinions…

Published by

Dahlia

Email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com or tweet me @mysilverstreaks

8 thoughts on “Story Club #3: An Unequal Life”

  1. An unequal life indeed!…felt sad for the baby..a precious life killed!..and Njabulo…he had been fond of her since she was 14 or may be even younger..when the farmer’s son had gifted her the ear-rings and belt, he had had wished that it was him who had gifted her both….he cared for her baby as he would for his own…irony is the baby was just an “it” for her biological father…
    Yes, I agree…why the “self-pity”?..why because they lived in a society that wouldn’t allow him to accept his love?…if not then, fingers would have pointed at him as the child grows….I guess all are victims of the system that existed then…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good choice of a story,Dahlia…made for an interesting read. The blunt, almost clinical narrative is startlingly believable…I’m guessing that this was just how things were back then in SA. But like you say, it isn’t an unusual occurrence.. exploitation of women from the vulnerable strata of society and their eventual abandonment is unfortunately a rather common issue, at least, in a place like India;which makes this story a very relevant read , even today.. I just wish that the author had done more justice to the characters by bringing out a bit more of their inner conflicts that influenced their thoughts and actions…I somehow felt that the author had left too much for the readers to figure out on their own….eith all due respect to the author, it is just my two cents on the story 😉 But this one definitely is a honest,brutal and deeply affecting read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ramya. I suppose that’s the greatness of a story that one wants to read more, know more. And we as readers want the author to be our imagination 😀 Would you like to host the next story club – some time around the middle of October? A story of your choice. No rush say No take your time and say Yes 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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