Thursday, February 10, 2011

1974 - The Conservationist, by Nadine Gordimer

I'm sure there were many things I missed in this complex movel, but then, I don't expect Nobel Prize winning authors to be easy-to-read...

I read The Conservationist in a kind of appalled fascination, repelled by the language South African Whites use to talk to and about the Blacks in the book. Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize winning author of this Booker Prize winning story, depicts her characters routinely using the language of master and servant in the most disparaging way, a kind of amused contempt exacerbated by its casual delivery. Reading it, one feels besmirched simply by being privy to the perspective of its White anti-hero, Mehring.

However as the tale unfolded, the main thing I noticed about The Conservationist was the sense of isolation of this principal character, Mehring. Unlike the dispossessed and powerless characters who work for and around him and enjoy companionable relationships with others, he – the rich, powerful white man in South Africa under Apartheid – is alone. As the story progresses he isolates himself even more, refusing all invitations and camping out in increasing discomfort rather than participate in society. Eventually his friends give up on him and the invitations dry up…

I read and blogged this book on February 10th 2011. To read the rest of my review please visit


  1. I feel the same as you do whenever I read South African Lit and I have been reading it for some time. However, if one comes to appreciate the environment within which it was written one would realise that we need not feel bad because the author has described it so but because certain individuals did these against another group of people. It is like the call to sanitise Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.

    There once was a time when blacks were servants and whites the masters. Hence, it isn't contempt of the black race by the author but the contempt of the black race by a government that was anti-black.

  2. Couldn't believe it when I clicked to see you reviewing this book. I'm reading it right now. I've got 30 pages to go.

    Nana F-A has nailed it here. Gordimer makes the political situation painfully clear, suggesting so many points of view filtered through Mehring's consciousness and his relationships with the folks who work on his farm, his Indian and Boer neighbors, his son, his wealthy colleagues and friends, and his former mistress. His own stream-of-consciousness narration and our limited access to other points of view work well to suggest the grim outlines of this world and this time--even as Mehring seeks to move out of time (in a way) through his own increasingly intense connection with the land.

    I better get back to it.

    Thanks for this.