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Nadine Gordimer: A World of Strangers

This novel, like some of its successors, was banned in South Africa for a long time. It also embodies many of the themes we will find in Gordimer’s later works. It tells the story of Toby Hood, a young white Englishman sent out to South Africa to work as the agent for a publishing house. His only previous connection with the country is that his grandfather was killed there in the Boer War. He soon associates with a group of affluent whites, not least because of the connections of his mother and his employer. He has an affair with one of the women from this group. Initially he has somewhat looked down on the blacks but then he meets Steven Sitole at a party and, through him, other somewhat bohemian blacks. Indeed, as with Colonel Bray, in Burger’s Daughter, he is more turned on by his black male friend than his white girlfriend. He is soon involved in the South African political movement against apartheid and realises that his position as a white man is a privilege, allowing him to pass from one segment of society to another. This is reinforced when Sitole and his friend Dan Ngobo are killed while fleeing the police, a tragedy that will open his eyes to the real political situation. As with other Gordimer heroes, he will struggle with the role of a white man in a black man’s world but also trying to determine what commitment really means. As he leaves for England, the question as to whether he will return is left very much open.

Publishing history

First published 1958 by Gollancz/Simon & Schuster