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Achmat Dangor: Waiting for Leila

It’s only a long short story but Dangor packs more into it than many long novels contain. It’s a sort of William Burroughs meets James Joyce, with an apartheid background. Samad is a drunk, but smart. He is/was in love with Leila, who is now getting married to a wealthy man. Samad tries to intervene but the wealthy man’s goons badly beat him up. Leila is never seen, either here or later, except in passing, though we get indications that the marriage did not work out. Samad lives with a group of Burroughsian characters – Calypso, the prostitute with loins like a man, Honey, the male prostitute (though Samad only finds this out later), who lives with Giordes, the Greek from Alexandria, who makes his money from drug-dealing. Dangor gives us a phenomenal portrait of a man falling apart but also a city falling apart, as District Six in Cape Town is being knocked down and, at the end of the novel, will explode into riots. All of this is against a background of apartheid and its effects, which we see continually and will end with Samad killing the fifth inhabitant (Judasface), at Judasface’s request and ending up in prison. Apocalyptic, yes, but also very poignant.

Publishing history

First published 2001 by Ravan, Johannesburg