Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer


This won the Booker Prize? What a joke.

I forced myself to read this for one of my classes. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. Gordimer's writing style is so verbose and insufferable to read. Sure, she tackles big issues of colonialism and race relations in apartheid South Africa (during the 60s? 70s?) but I for one found it difficult to care about anything going on in this novel. The story is about some rich, misogynistic white dude who owns a farm in rural South Africa and tries desperately to form an intimate relationship with the land but he can't since he is, uh, white and the land doesn't belong to him in the first place since his colonial predecessors stole the land from the native Africans. He continues to uphold their conservative principles of white privilege and colonial power. Oh, a dead body also shows up on his property. He is pretty upset about this and complains to the authorities but since it is a dead black body, they don't really care. Racism and all that.

The novel is full of ironies. He is a business man and venture capitalist but also, as the title indicates, a "conservationist" (how clever!). He is referred to as a farmer but ironically, does not do any farming at all. Instead, he exploits the labor of his black workers (what else is new). In one of many bizarre scenes, he fingers a girl on a plane (Gordimer embellishes this sexual violation with such lengthy poetic detail that it is cringe-worthy) and in the attempt to become one with nature, he crouches down in his field to unload his bowels. No, I am not kidding--this really happens. I could be wrong but perhaps his act of defecation on the land is symbolic of the white colonialists who all took a massive shit on Africa. Maybe. 

Anyways, I am sure post-colonial critics will find plenty to say about the novel, especially its employment of heavy symbolism while also praising her narrative techniques (I for one found her stream-of-consciousness and free-indirect discourse bloody annoying). Furthermore, reading this novel within the ideologically framework of cosmopolitanism could make for some interesting discussion on white colonialism but quite frankly, who cares.

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