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Gordimer captures the post-apartheid reality of S. Africa

Nobel Prize-winning South African author Nadine Gordimer has written a post-apartheid novel, "No Time Like The Present," at the age of 88. She sticks with what she knows best: an explanation of the links between her country, culture and its people.

Gordimer's style is piercingly simple, her observations complex. In this, she is at one with her characters, Steve and Jabulile, an interracial couple living, if tentatively, in South Africa.

Their daughter Sindiswa is growing to school age. This inspires Steve, a lecturer at university, to suggest they move into a better neighborhood, where Sindiswa could take advantage of a proper school.In the meantime, life goes on and Jabulile, in training to be a lawyer, has another child, a boy.

A friend, Jake Anderson, rings up to ask if Steve and his family might come out for a visit to his house on Sunday. Clearly, this is something cooked up by Steve so that Jabulile might see a better part of town.

So Steve and Jabulile and the kids "... took the freeway to an exit unfamiliar. It debouched on streets brooded over by straggly pepper trees drooping their age and what must be jacarandas..."

Gordimer sets the scene: The friends there are all young, "but it's as if they are old men living in the past, there everything happened.

Their experience of life defined: now everything is after. Detention cells, a brother captured and killed ... dismembered bodies burned ... by drunken white African soldiers and thrown in the Komati River ... Now everything is after."

"No Time Like The Present" makes it clear that living in South Africa with its "new" freedom isn't a lark. One has to be careful. In her new novel we learn fresh lessons of Gordimer's lifetime of writing.

A few years ago I wrote about Gordimer's series of essays, "Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008," saying, "Combine ... Gordimer's style of writing, plain and direct, motivated by a heartfelt desire to want the reader to share her vision, and you have near perfection in the life of a writer."

This is what you get in "No Time Like the Present."

Michael D. Langan is a veteran News book reviewer.


No Time Like The Present

By Nadine Gordimer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

384 pages, $27