Top positive review
48 people found this helpful
Has matured as a writer
on 25 March 2002
Homegrown gem: Achmat Dangor
Born in 1948 into a strictly Muslim household in Johannesburg, Achmat Dangor spent a great deal of his childhood in Cape Town's colourful District Six where in addition to attending a conventional Western school, he also went to Islamic school (madrassa) on a daily basis. It was an upbringing that was to stand him in good stead for his later role of both political activist and storyteller.
In the 1970s Dangor, then a university student, joined the political movement founded by Steve Biko. What with the notorious forced removals of the residents from their homes in District Six, and his growing awareness of an unjust political system, Dangor turned to his passion, writing, as a means of expression. His first collection, Waitng for Leila openly and lyrically laments the systematic breaking down of the community he'd grown up in. While the writing was raw, and by no means his best work, this slim tome obvious struck a nerve, and before long, in 1973, Dangor was banned from writing by the Apartheid regime.
For 13 years he lived in exile in the US and wrote about the land of his birth from afar, trying wherever possible to generate awareness about what was really going on here. He went on to write The Z-town Trilogy in which he drew attention to the base reality of life within the struggle and how it affected personal relationships; and, more recently, Kafka's Curse, which shows a move away from the mythic cadence of his earlier work towards a more grounded, hard-hitting realism.
He has won numerous awards for his writing, but strangely remains relatively unrecognised as a novelist by the South African public. Ask the man on the street who Achmat Dangor is and he's most likely to respond 'CEO of the Nelson Mandela Childen's Fund', which indeed he was until recently when he gave up his post to pursue his literary career full-time. A move that seems to be paying off.
Dangor's powerful yet stark new book, Bitter Fruit (Kwela Books, R89,95) has just hit the shelves and, in true Dangor style, he's not pulling any punches. Set in 90s South Africa, post-TRC, it is the story of two people working out their demons and coming to understand their role and identity within the new order. Silas, who works for the Department of Justice, and Lydia, a nurse, seem trapped in an utterly loveless marriage, haunted by a past brutality, a critical moment in time that bound them together as much as it drove them apart. Through Silas and Lydia's brittle relationship Dangor draws attention to the fact that some wounds run far deeper than public forums like the TRC have the power to heal. The couple's relationship with each other and, quite pivotally, with their emotionally detached son Mikey, holds up a mirror to the greater social project of the TRC, raising a wealth of questions as yet unasked. A passionate, moving and often heart-wrenching look at how far we've come as a nation, and yet how very far we still have to go.