by Benjamin Kwakye
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup is a post-apartheid novel set partly in the author’s homeland of South Africa. The narrative attempts to tackle the thorny issue of interracial relationships. Even more in its complexity is the international nature of the relationship between the novel’s two main characters.
Ibrahim is an illegal immigrant in South Africa when he meets Julie Summers, a privileged white South African, who seems to thumb her nose at the privilege that has begotten her. A casual romance develops into a carnal union. Even then it’s not clear that the consummation of carnal urges will lead to the complexity of the relationship that Nadine Gordimer navigates. By the time we begin to appreciate the depth of the relationship between Ibrahim and Julie, Gordimer has already succeeded in winning our sympathies for the novel’s characters.
Unable to legalize Ibrahim’s stay in South Africa, even with his connection to privileged, albeit rebellious, Julie, the two lovers have to relocate to his homeland. That Julie will shun her privileges to follow Ibrahim to what, by Gordimer’s account, is an impoverished African country may appear a bit far-fetched. But a more startling revelation lies in wait. And it is that revelation that endears the reader to Julie, to her convictions, to her strengths.
The Pickup sidesteps the expediency of simplicity, to deal frontally with issues of love, race and class struggle. Gordimer, once again, validates her stature as a great novelist.
Nadine Gordimer was born and lives in South Africa. She has written several novels and essays and received numerous awards. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Pickup is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Benjamin Kwakye, our award-winning, “resident novelist,” is the author of The Clothes of Nakedness (Heinemann) and The Sun by Night (Africa World Press), his latest novel.