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Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
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And Other Stories

A-Beethoven Was One...These 13 stories of varying lengths and styles explore the myriad ways in which our pasts—inherited, remembered, or imagined—influence and even determine our present. In "Dreaming of the Dead," the narrator imagines dinner in a Chinese restaurant with Gordimer’s departed friends Edward Said and Susan Sontag. "Allesverloren" recounts a widow’s revelatory visit to her husband’s ex-lover. In another story, Gordimer invokes both Kafka and Proust as she describes the miraculous appearance in her typewriter carriage of an actual cockroach. A tapeworm narrates "Tape Measure" as it travels through a digestive system. Gordimer experiments widely here, though the collection, as a whole, shows less interest in her native South Africa than previous works.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 192 pages. $21. ISBN: 0374109826

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"In showing how a writer can use sound, sight or smell to tell her tale, she makes a point about the arbitrariness of choice but also about the places, expected and less so, that it can go… In her latest book, Gordimer shows that in her 80s she is actually still growing as a writer—what a rare and admirable feat." Martin Rubin

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There are longer stories between these covers, but the short-short and decidedly more experimental stories, stories in which she puts little effort at the service of conventional artifice, remain the most interesting. They give us brief glimpses into the mind of one of Africa’s great modern literary geniuses, and though there are moments when it feels as though one were breathing mere vapors and drinking the lees of longer work, the overall effect here is that of lasting mastery of the mode." Alan Cheuse

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"As if determined to clean out her notebook, the Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer gathers voice exercises and experimental sketches in Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black. … For better and worse, these pieces are caught between telling stories and noodling on the act of storytelling." Troy Patterson

Seattle Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At its best, the book offers compelling psychosexual journeys, probing at marital tensions and the hazardous play of memory in the bereaved. … Maybe it’s time to do a Selected Stories: Volume Two and separate the gems from the misfires." Michael Upchurch

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"On nearly every page there’s evidence of Gordimer’s intellectual rigor, as well as the upright discipline all serious writers possess. But the prose is often mannered and parched. … You can’t help wondering whether maybe the tapeworm isn’t having a better meal." Stephanie Zacharek

Critical Summary

Acknowledged as one of the finest writers of the 20th century, Nadine Gordimer has received dozens of her culture’s highest honors, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and, most recently, France’s Legion of Honor in 2007. Her latest collection departs from her traditional themes of politics and race and explores the individual’s sense of self and relationship to history, as well as the art of story writing itself. While critics praised some stories, such as the title story and "Allesverloren," they criticized others, including "Tape Measure" and a story about a parrot who spills secrets. Reviewers gave Gordimer lukewarm praise for her daring experimentation, but they cited some of her stories as slight. Though uneven, the collection still gives nod to Gordimer’s great literary talent.