The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY JENNI FRAZER

FIND­ING NA­DINE Gordimer’s Jo­han­nes­burg home in 1998 was not as easy as she had firmly in­sisted on the tele­phone.

The new ANC-dom­i­nated govern­ment, in a burst of enthusiasm to rid it­self of all Afrikaaner ref­er­ences, had an­nounced a re­nam­ing of streets, so that the cen­tral Jan Smuts Boule­vard, off which Gordimer lived, no longer ap­peared on maps un­der that name.

The No­bel Prizewin­ning au­thor, who died this week aged 90, was not, it is safe to say, an overtly warm and wel­com­ing per­son­al­ity.

She suf­fered rounds of in­ter­views to pro­mote each of her new books with some re­luc­tance; she had agreed to be in­ter­viewed by the JC be­cause she had, more than 20 years ear­lier, pro­vided the paper with an orig­i­nal short story and had been well re­viewed in its pages over the years.

But though she was com­fort­able and prac­tised in her com­ments about apartheid and its col­lapse, she was on less sure ground when talk­ing about her Jewish back­ground.

Gordimer was born in Springs, a small min­ing town in the Transvaal. Her fa­ther, Isi­dore Gordimer, was a watch re­pairer who had been brought up in a Lithua­nian shtetl, while her mother, Nancy My­ers, was an ed­u­cated woman from Lon­don who sent Gordimer and her sis­ter to a Catholic con­vent for part of their ed­u­ca­tion.

The writer re­called her fa­ther at­tend­ing syn­a­gogue on Yom Kip­pur alone while, later, her mother, Na­dine and her sis­ter, bare­foot and dressed in shorts and shirts, would pick him up in the car. “We re­alised later how em­bar­rass­ing it must have been for him,” she said. “We just used it as a hol­i­day and I think it must have been quite hu­mil­i­at­ing for him. He wasn’t al­lowed to have any Jewish­ness.”

She had a prickly re­la­tion­ship with the or­gan­ised Jewish com­mu­nity, al­though — more by ac­ci­dent than de­sign — both of her hus­bands were Jewish. Her first hus­band was a den­tist, Ger­ald Gavron, and her sec­ond was Rene Cas­sirer, a Ger­man-Jewish refugee art dealer who fled the Nazis in 1934.

“I have of­ten been asked, ” she said, “do you think your iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the black strug­gle comes about be­cause you come from an op­pressed people?”

I would hope not. I would like to think that you don’t have to be a Jew, to be ap­palled, as long as there is a liv­ing mem­ory, by the Holo­caust. And that you don’t have to be black in or­der to be ap­palled by apartheid.”


Na­dine Gordimer and ( in­set) the short story she wrote for the JC

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