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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor

This was not the book I expected to read. I chose it because the topic of it was reported to be before and after apartheid in South Africa. That's not a subject about which I know very much, so I thought I would learn more through a fictional family who had to deal with this issue for years.

The book was about the family and to some extent about how apartheid affected their lives before and after the government changes. In fact, it reminded me somewhat of what I've read of what life is like for people in Iraq before and after the coalition invasion. According to official reports, everyone is happier than they've ever been once they were freed from the constraints of an abusive government. But the fact of the matter is that you can't undo years and years of conditioning overnight no matter what banner of freedom you fly. Apartheid may be gone, but it's legacy will live on in many ways for generations.

What I did not expect was for this book to deal with the issues it discusses primarily through sex, and by that I do not mean gender identification. I mean descriptions of people engaging in various sexual practices so that one begins to get the idea that the defining characteristic about the people of South Africa is their preoccupation with having as much sex as they can wherever and whenever they wish. Most of it is done indiscriminately, and it crosses several distasteful barriers. I felt I should have been given some warning about this kind of content. Had I known about it, I might have chosen not to buy the book

It did occur to me as I was reading some of this material, which after a while I found boring and terribly redundant even when I thought the author was trying for shock value, that when a person's every move is monitored and legislated, perhaps all that's left to them is gratification of what they see as sexual need.

I suppose those in charge of nominating books to receive prestigious awards saw this book as a commentary on what happens to a family that lives and breathes oppression for years. As such, they viewed Bitter Fruit as worthy of such a prize. I found the book to be far too narrow in its view of the subject about which it is supposed to be enlightening readers. For that reason I have absolutely no idea to whom I might recommend it.

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