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A-GetALifeWhat’s a man diagnosed with thyroid cancer to do? Rethink his relationships and consider his mortality, of course. Get a Life, set in postapartheid Johannesburg, introduces the introspective Paul Bannerman, a 35-year-old ecologist and conservationist. Following radiation treatment, he lodges at his parents’ spacious home to avoid any radiation threat to his young son and wife, Berenice/Benni, a prodevelopment ad-agency executive. As he recuperates, Paul, finding himself a "leper" in his quarantined quarters, has plenty of time to consider his wife’s values while his parents face their own tumultuous past. No one emerges unchanged.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 208 pages. $21. ISBN: 0374161704

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Politics hover on the edges of this novel. References are made to actual events, but even the most pressing problems of contemporary South Africa operate here as agents for furthering plot and highlighting character. … A tour de force for any writer but surely still more remarkable in an octogenarian." Martin Rubin

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Cancer then is an apt metaphor for this book, since Get a Life is a meditation on the dangers of self-interest, the frisson of anxiety that ripples through individuals (and society) when they have been forced to cut back on what they can claim as theirs. … Although Gordimer narrates in a close third person, each character exists in a slightly different prose register—Paul’s early recuperation period being the most dramatic and strange." John Freeman

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s a heady set of ideas that Gordimer sets before us, disguised as a novel. Here, there are none of the easy, vicarious pleasures of reader identification with characters. Defying its eccentric title, Get A Life is an important, challenging contribution to a much-needed contemporary discourse." Joan Mellen

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"As always, Gordimer is interested in the intersection of public and private spheres, drawing complex but somewhat tenuous connections between ecological and personal survival while questioning the morality of both. … In lieu of the political heat and intensity of earlier novels such as July’s People or The House Gun, Get a Life offers a cooler, more meditative sheen." Heller McAlpin

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At times, Get a Life seems to suffer from the very problems of its characters: too self-analytical, too emotionally distant." Jeanne Colleran

Christian Science Monitor 2 of 5 Stars
"While her earlier works didn’t exactly tend to flowery excess, here she writes in a staccato so sharp it’s almost Morse code. … In the end, Get a Life is more for those who want to think about ideas than for people who love to read." Yvonne Zipp

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[Gordimer] is too political a writer for the local catastrophe of illness: too neglectful of the tiresome particulars, too keen to excavate the message. … Paul is never quite real; nor are his parents … or Berenice, although Gordimer tries hard to give her personality depth by inventing an off-duty identity for her, ‘Benni,’ to signify the split between the wife and the successful career woman." Sophie Harrison

Critical Summary

Gordimer, a 1991 Nobel laureate, has historically mined apartheid’s personal, social, and psychological landscape and explored the intersection of public and private spheres. Get a Life, her 14th novel, similarly takes place against larger social and political transitions. But here, to many critics’ chagrin, her work is less politically intense than usual, her characters embodiments of ideas rather than flesh-and-blood people. Reviewers praised Gordimer’s depiction of the renewed parent/child relationship but criticized its contrived nature. They also panned the schematic narrative, which often blurs introspective and external narration. Last, the crystalline sharpness of Gordimer’s previous novels has hardened here into fragmented, choppy, and uncomfortable prose—perhaps reflecting Paul’s life.

A Gordimer Classic

Burger’s Daughter (1979): This is a character study of a woman trapped by both a repressive culture and her family’s past. Rosa Burger’s parents were antiapartheid activists; her father died in prison. Rosa is expected to take up the cause, but she hopes to escape that life.