Table of Contents
Life Times: Stories
“A welcome collection by a master of English proseâlucid and precisely written.”
“Highly recommended; these powerful and serious stories span the career to date of a critically acclaimed, prize-winning author.... The themes in these pieces include political activism, race relations, love, family and relationships, remembrances of times past, the notion of home and being transplanted elsewhere, everyday life, and much more.... Gordimer's characters and situations are complex and multifaceted, and it is a testament to her literary skill that she can pack so much depth of meaning into each story.”
“For those new to Gordimer,
is a marvelous introduction to her writing. For those who know her work, it is a worthy reminder of the enduring power of her art.... What ultimately makes Gordimer's stories matter is her extraordinary ability to get beneath our skin, forcing us to acknowledge our own uncomfortable fellowship with her humanly flawed characters.”
“[Gordimer] is incredibly gifted at revealing the most subtle character details. . . . These stories offer a fascinating portrait of contemporary South Africa. What they reveal, above all, is a writer willing to face issues of cruelty, hypocrisy, and despair, and refusing to back down.”
The Dallas Morning News
“This Nobel Prize â winning South African writer is as vital and independent as she has ever been. Boundaries in her fiction and politics exist to be challenged.... In her work, as in her life, [Gordimer] recognizes all the compelling reasons for despair that there are in the world and refuses to be intimidated.”
“Daring . . . Gordimer's are stories of the human soulâregardless of the color of the skin it comes wrapped in.... [Her] writing is a humane intervention between the two factions of what seemed, at times, a hopelessly divided society. Her characters are messengers who could cross boundaries in the imagination that would have been forbidden in reality.... Thrilling.”
“[Albert] Camus's statement âThe moment when I am no longer more than a writer, I will cease to write' helps to explain the vitality of this extraordinary writer and the moral gaze she has castâarch and rigorousâover literature and politics in the past sixty years.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nadine Gordimer's fourteen novels include
, joint winner of the Booker Prize,
A Sport of Nature
Get a Life
, all available from Penguin. Her nine collections of short stories include
, and, most recently,
Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black
, also available from Penguin. She has collected and edited
, an anthology published in fourteen languages whose royalties go to HIV/AIDS organizations. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Great Britain by Bloomsbury Publishing 2010
First published in the United States of America by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010
Published in Penguin Books 2011
Copyright Â© Nadine Gordimer, 2010
All rights reserved
Individual collections copyright Â© 1953, 1956, 1960, 1965, 1972, 1980, 2007 by Nadine Gordimer.
Copyright Â© 1991, 2003 by Felix Licensing BV.
Uncollected stories copyright Â© 2009 and 2010 by Nadine Gordimer.
ISBN : 978-1-101-55865-2
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
12March 1908 â 17 October 2001
1March 1953 â 17October 2001
The Soft Voice of the SerpentThe Soft Voice of the Serpent
e was only twenty-six and very healthy and he was soon strong enough to be wheeled out into the garden. Like everyone else, he had great and curious faith in the garden: âWell, soon you'll be up and able to sit out in the garden,' they said, looking at him fervently, with little understanding tilts of the head. Yes, he would be out . . . in the garden. It was a big garden enclosed in old, dark, sleek, pungent firs, and he could sit deep beneath their tiered fringes, down in the shade, far away. There was the feeling that there, in the garden, he would come to an understanding; that it would come easier there. Perhaps there was something in this of the old Eden idea; the tender human adjusting himself to himself in the soothing impersonal presence of trees and grass and earth, before going out into the stare of the world.
The very first time it was so strange; his wife was wheeling him along the gravel path in the sun and the shade, and he felt exactly as he did when he was a little boy and he used to bend and hang, looking at the world upside down, through his ankles. Everything was vast and open, the sky, the wind blowing along through the swaying, trembling greens, the flowers shaking in vehement denial. Movement . . .
A first slight wind lifted again in the slack, furled sail of himself; he felt it belly gently, so gently he could just feel it, lifting inside him.
So she wheeled him along, pushing hard and not particularly well with her thin pretty arms â but he would not for anything complain of the way she did it or suggest that the nurse might do better, for he knew that would hurt her â and when they came to a spot that he liked, she put the brake on the chair and settled him there for the morning. That was the first time and now he sat there every day. He read a lot, but his attention was arrested sometimes, quite suddenly and compellingly, by the sunken place under the rug where his leg used to be. There was his one leg, and next to it, the rug flapped loose. Then looking, he felt his leg not there; he felt it go, slowly, from the toe to the thigh. He felt that he had no leg. After a few minutes he went back to his book. He never let the realisation quite reach him; he let himself realise it physically, but he never quite let it get at
. He felt it pressing up, coming, coming, dark, crushing, ready to burst â but he always turned away, just in time, back to his book. That was his system; that was the way he was going to do it. He would let it come near, irresistibly near, again and again, ready to catch him alone in the garden. And again and again he would turn it back, just in time. Slowly it would become a habit, with the reassuring strength of a habit. It would become such a habit never to get to the point of realising it,
that he would never realise it
. And one day he would find that he had achieved what he wanted:
he would feel as if he had always been like that
Then the danger would be over, for ever.
In a week or two he did not have to read all the time; he could let himself put down the book and look about him, watching the firs part silkily as a child's fine straight hair in the wind, watching the small birds tightroping the telephone wire, watching the fat old dove trotting after his refined patrician grey women, purring with lust. His wife came and sat beside him, doing her sewing, and sometimes they spoke, but often they sat for hours, a whole morning, her movements at work small and unobtrusive as the birds', he resting his head back and looking at a blur of sky through half-closed eyes. Now and then her eye, habitually looking inwards, would catch the signal of some little happening, some point of colour in the garden, and her laugh or exclamation drawing his attention to it would suddenly clear away the silence. At eleven o'clock she would get up and put down her sewing and go into the house to fetch their tea; crunching slowly away into the sun up the path, going easily, empowered by the sun rather than her own muscles. He watched her go, easily . . . He was healing. In the static quality of his gaze, in the relaxed feeling of his mouth, in the upward-lying palm of his hand, there was annealment . . .
One day a big locust whirred dryly past her head, and she jumped up with a cry, scattering her sewing things. He laughed at her as she bent about picking them up, shuddering. She went into the house to fetch the tea, and he began to read. But presently he put down the book and, yawning, noticed a reel of pink cotton that she had missed, lying in a rose bed.
He smiled, remembering her. And then he became conscious of a curious old-mannish little face, fixed upon him in a kind of hypnotic dread. There, absolutely stilled with fear beneath his glance, crouched a very big locust. What an amusing face the thing had! A lugubrious long face, that somehow suggested a bald head, and such a glum mouth. It looked like some little person out of a Disney cartoon. It moved slightly, still looking up fearfully at him. Strange body, encased in a sort of old-fashioned creaky armour. He had never realised before what ridiculous-looking insects locusts were! Well, naturally not; they occur to one collectively, as a pest â one doesn't go around looking at their faces.
The face was certainly curiously human and even expressive, but looking at the body, he decided that the body couldn't really be called a body at all. With the face, the creature's kinship with humans ended. The body was flimsy paper stretched over a frame of matchstick, like a small boy's home-made aeroplane. And those could not be thought of as legs â the great saw-toothed back ones were like the parts of an old crane, and the front ones like â like one of her hairpins, bent in two. At that moment the creature slowly lifted up one of the front legs, and passed it tremblingly over its head, stroking the left antenna down. Just as a man might take out a handkerchief and pass it over his brow.