Nobel winner Nadine Gordimer dies at 90

Her family announced the death but did not disclose the cause.

Gordimer, who was white, was an early and active member of the African National Congress, but she did not craft political manifestos. Her role as an author, she said, was simply to ‘write in my own way as honestly as I can and go as deeply as I can into the life around me.’ 

Her characters with lofty ideals were often personally flawed; the racists and apolitical businessmen had the same depth and complexity as the freedom fighters.

‘The Conservationist,’ which won the Man Booker Prize in 1974, presents one of Gordimer’s most well-formed characters, a white industrialist who has purchased a large farm outside Johannesburg, in part to be a rendezvous spot for him and his married, politically radical mistress.

Another acclaimed novel, Burger’s Daughter, published in 1979, follows the personal and political struggles of Rosa Burger, the daughter of a charismatic Afrikaner doctor and anti-apartheid activist who died in prison. In a country defined by its political intensity, Rosa concludes that ‘the real definition of loneliness’ is to ‘live without social responsibility.’

Gordimer’s 1981 novel July’s People tells the story of a liberal white family fleeing an imagined, violent revolution against apartheid and ending up in the village of — and beholden to — their former servant, July.

From her 1958 novel, A World of Strangers, which details the futile attempts by of a young English businessman to maintain ties among whites and blacks in South Africa, to the 2012 No Time Like the Present, which follows an interracial couple struggling to navigate their troubled post-apartheid society, Gordimer wrote unsparingly of race, identity and place, and of how repressive political systems etched themselves onto the lives and relationships of individuals.

She makes visible the extremely complicated and utterly inhuman living conditions in the world of racial segregation,’ Sture Allen, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said while awarding Gordimer the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991. ‘In this way, artistry and morality fuse.’ 

Gordimer noted that ‘politics is character’ in South Africa, said Stephen Clingman, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an authority on the novelist’s work. ‘She knew that if you wanted to understand any character, black or white, you needed to understand the way politics entered into the very individual.

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