Friday, January 20, 2012

Athena K's review - Bitter Fruit

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, the Ali family's broken relationships are on display in this miserable little novel.  The Bitter Fruit of the title is embodied in Silas Ali's warm beer of escape, white Kate and Julian's experience in the newborn democracy in which they are no longer wanted, and, most especially, Lydia Ali's son Mikey, born after her rape over 19 years ago.

Achmat Dangor's expression of all of this bitterness is in the various troubled sexual activities, encounters and desires of his cast of characters.  They include the violence of rape, the apathy of unwanted marital sex, inappropriate seduction between age groups, infidelity, homosexuality (female and male), and incestuous urges and actions of all kinds: father/daughter, mother/son and nephew/aunt.  After a while, these sexual encounters lost their shock value - and did not appear to have any other important value.  This theme seemed like a badly-contrived plot device in lieu of an actual story or compelling characters, and I was over it long before it was over.

Other themes that I might have found interesting emerged late in the story, including the amorphous definition of race and the plurality of religion possible within a single family in modern South Africa.  Perhaps because I was not a native reader I had a hard time figuring out each character's racial identity - and I couldn't determine whether this was because of my ignorance in picking up on cues particular to the country, or whether it was intentional on behalf of Achmat Dangor.  Religions seemed a bit more obvious, and the way each character is liberated and  also confined by his or her religious upbringing was teased out nicely. However, it wasn't enough in the end to encourage me to care about the characters at the climax of the action, or to care about the unresolved pieces.

1 comment:

  1. This review had me running to my list of winners & nominees. For most, the title at least has a passing familiarity; this one was completely unfamiliar to me. And I'm not sure I'm in a hurry to read it either!