Thursday, March 20, 2014

Scorched in Dystopia

I’ve been inexorably, (horrifyingly) prejudiced, my dear readers. As you know, I am a proud South African, but one faction of SA nationalism that I have avoided (sadly, like the plague) is South African literature, particularly South African fiction. I’ve never been one to write off things because of one nasty experience, but I can without a doubt say that I can blame one South African novel for this: The Restless Supermarket. Warning: NEVER read this book unless you plan on sitting for 6 months with a ruler and a dictionary, or have a particular affiliation to entire paragraphs on grammar. Nevertheless, as part of my matric English requirements, I nestled down with a South African novel, and I can joyously say that it has changed my perceptions indefinitely.

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing is a story about Mary and Dick Turner, an impoverish white husband and wife living on a farm in southern Rhodesia in the height of racist white colonial times. Mary’s marriage to Dick is simply a convenience, and soon after moving to the Dick’s farm, she transforms from an aloof, coquettish 30 year old, still stuck in her girlhood, to a bitter, fury-filled woman, as scorched as the land upon which she lives. She holds great resentment toward Dick for his failure as a farmer, but her true wrath expresses itself in her racist attitudes toward the native servant in her home and workers on their land. Dick is ill one year and she is forced to monitor the crop work, however this culminates in her striking a worker with a whip because of his audacity to request for water using English. The native does not retaliate, but something snaps in Mary that day and she has a nervous breakdown. Moses, that same native then later becomes their home servant. Mary begins to become obsessed with Moses’ presence to the point of showing an almost attraction toward him. Forced off their farm by a conniving neighbouring farmer, Dick, as worn out as his wife, and Mary plan to leave for a holiday, but Mary has fallen into a deep isolation and madness, partly from her foreseeing of her fate after she betrays Moses while in her state of insanity. Moses, who has been playing a game all along with his oppressor, takes back his power and dignity and murders Mary and hands himself in to the white colonialists, who write off the incident as a native killing for the jewellery of his mistress.

While reading this book, and the actions and attitudes of the horrid Mary, I can't say I've ever hated a character more in my life. I am fundamentally repugnant to any form of racism, partly because of my upbringing as a youth of Post-Apartheid South Africa and then also, that’s just who I am. To read first hand from the racist herself of the attitude of white colonials was absolutely horrifying for me, but is testament to the brilliance and masterfulness of Doris Lessing. The Grass is Singing has in a way brought me closer to my country in that I am more knowledgeable of southern Africa’s complexity in its history and its truth, for as Doris Lessing said, “There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” 

I have been the richer for it to see how far human attitudes and existence has evolved through this book. I have found myself to now believe that South African authors have stories to tell, great, epic stories, and I look forward to biting my teeth into my next South African novel.


P.S  That South African novel will undoubtedly be Fiela's Child by Dalene Matthee, an English Translation of an Afrikaans book under the title Fiela se Kind. Await a review.

P.P.S The above blog was written for my matric English task. 20/20! Oh yeah.