on 25 June 2014
Why so long between books? It is because Zoe Wicomb does not write lightly, though her style appears light and the narrative voice subtle, thoughtful, conveying a complex web of paradoxes, irony and sensibility that emanate from the complex, difficult, often exasperating experience of a South African woman who grew up in the Northern Cape in the apartheid era. Wicomb's work, her characters, are lovingly crafted, her use of language delicate and precise, embedded in the arid landscape and frugal lives, with little starbursts of beauty and wit, like the exotic chincherinchee and the kalkoentjies of Namaqualand. A consummate storyteller, Zoe Wicomb knows how to weave the mystery and pathos of her tale into the layers of histories, personal and territorial, conjuring the core colonial dramas of dispossession, suffering and struggle with the lightest of touches, so that her characters are not so much the victims of those cruel mores, as their living emanations, the poisoned fruits of a society with its roots in apartheid. Yet even as the reader gradually, painfully, discerns the sick truth, she is carried along by the artistry of the language and descriptions, the perceptive humanity of the narrative voice, the love for the people and place. These are what constitute the powerful undercurrent of universal significance that flows through all Wicomb's writing. I know of no living author who writes with such fine understanding, such mastery of language, such breadth of vision.