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End of an Elite

R.W. Johnson, 21 March 1996

Slovo: The Unfinished Autobiography 
by Joe Slovo.
Hodder, 253 pp., £18.99, February 1996, 0 340 66566 1
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... his body was carried on an army gun carriage through Soweto in post-apartheid South Africa’s first state funeral. Forty thousand people sat through the long tributes in Orlando Stadium, the ANC high-ups arriving in Nyala armoured cars. Impala jets – developed by sanctions-struck South Africa to fight the likes of Slovo – flew overhead in ...
... at some speed. His speech follows hard on a truce agreement between the ANC and Inkatha – the first step towards ending a conflict which has cost some five thousand lives in Natal and on the Reef since 1985. Whether the truce will hold and whether it will stem the creeping ethnicisation of black politics remains to be seen. But Mandela’s public embrace ...


Graham Hough, 5 March 1981

by Marilynne Robinson.
Faber, 218 pp., £5.25, March 1981, 0 571 11713 9
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The Noble Enemy 
by Charles Fox.
Granada, 383 pp., £6.95, February 1981, 0 246 11452 5
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The Roman Persuasion 
by Bernard Bergonzi.
Weidenfeld, 192 pp., £6.95, March 1981, 0 297 77927 3
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... Ruth and Lucille are sisters, living in Fingerbone on Fingerbone Lake. At the bottom of the lake lies their grandfather, who was guard on a train that plunged off the bridge one night, years before they were born. There also lies their mother, who one day when Ruth was eight years old drove in from Seattle, left the children on their grandmother’s porch, and then went on in the car to the top of a tall cliff and drove off into the blackest depths of the water ...


Lyndall Gordon, 18 September 1980

Olive Schreiner: A Biography 
by Ruth First and Ann Scott.
Deutsch, 383 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 233 97152 1
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... a woman writing from remote farms and railway stoppings in South Africa between the 1870s and the First World War attract this attention? The new Olive Schreiner has been commissioned with the renewed interest in the feminist heroine of The Story of an African Farm (1883), and this approach to Olive Schreiner, which places her as a polemicist rather than a ...


Penelope Fitzgerald, 13 October 1988

Olive Schreiner: Letters. Vol. 1: 1871-1899 
edited by Richard Rive.
Oxford, 409 pp., £30, February 1988, 0 19 812220 9
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... ceased to love the ruined father. Left homeless, she was taken in by her eldest brother, Theo, who first ran a school, then went to try his luck in the diamond fields. When Olive was five she sat among the tall weeds behind the house and understood, without having the words for it, that they were alive and that she was part of them. At six, she was whipped for ...

A Use for the Stones

Jacqueline Rose: On Being Nadine Gordimer, 20 April 2006

Get a Life 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 187 pp., £16.99, November 2005, 0 7475 8175 4
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... Africa, ‘whether this is a dead-end or can be made a new beginning.’ Get a Life is not the first of Gordimer’s writings in which power plants are the political focus. In her 1984 novella, ‘Something Out There’, four ANC revolutionaries conduct a successful strike against a power station (the episode is based on a real event). Although Gordimer ...

Lost Drawing

Ruth Fainlight, 17 July 1980

... trees like these in England which she never saw – and now, trees in my garden make me feel the first true pang of grief since her death. Between the wash-tubs and storecupboards filled with pickled peaches and grape-jam, crouched into a broken wicker chair, I peered up through the basement window. Sketchpad on my lap, with brushes and bottles of black ...


Ruth Padel, 5 January 2012

... A ladder’, the master whispered, ‘of nucleic acid.’ This was the first we’d heard of it. Rain nosed the glass; wind lashed the trees outside. ‘Four hydrogen-bonded nucleotides locking on like mating damselflies, but each a different size, pulling the ladder’s sides into a twist, like serpents on the sign outside a chemist who for old time’s sake gives lodging in his window to the alchemist’s glass jars ...

Seeing things

Rosemary Dinnage, 4 December 1980

The Story of Ruth 
by Morton Schatzman.
Duckworth, 306 pp., £6.95, September 1980, 0 7156 1504 1
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... The jacket of The Story of Ruth is adorned with praise from the famous: Edna O’Brien, among others, found it ‘disturbing and quite fascinating’, and Doris Lessing ‘a valuable book, an original’. It is a pity it comes in the kind of packaging that will repel the averagely fastidious reader. Duckworth have printed it in type about one size smaller than that of a Janet and John reader, and sub-titled it ‘one woman’s haunting psychiatric odyssey ...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel: ‘The Excavation’, ‘The Watchers’, 20 February 2003

... jade-green canal, chin upside down under the scum of the sodden log edge, slicks her hair for her first job, her first fashion shoot. She thinks she’s alone. They’re russeting up into amber and rose. Blue eyes have turned citrus. Brown ears (little triangles, no longer round) hear her ring- tune: Dr Zhivago. She ...

A Drink in the New Piazza

Ruth Padel, 7 March 1996

... sad’). The thud of lilies that could only be the thud of lilies, nothing else – or the first shot of Dr Zhivago. The mound of pinkish clay against those tungsten hills, and two hefty men walking away from it, back to HQ after a good half-day, swinging from post-sacramental torsos the straps that lowered you. V But Gerry, the way you held ...

Slices of Toast

Ruth Padel, 8 March 2007

... small waters of our particular rivers, and this terrible readiness to worry about your own family first, may be the least of our problems but I think my daughter, my daughter, how is she going to deal with ...

Two Poems

Ruth Padel, 4 January 2007

... secrets in black earth on ivy-lattice ridge-trails; wolf-shadows where cedars flush in dawn’s first light under first winter snow. You’ve betrayed all this to our enemies, the Greeks. (Euripides, Trojan Women, 1060-70) I was on his boat. As we left we saw a deranged old man, a fire-eater. Our shorn hills behind the ...
Daring to Excel: The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain 
by Ruth Railton.
Secker, 466 pp., £20, August 1992, 0 436 23359 2
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... Ruth gave the Prime Minister as a Christmas card an old map of the Broadstairs area of Kent.’ The Prime Minister thanked her for it, writing from Chequers ‘in his own hand’. In his 1970-74 diaries Cecil King records a warm relationship between his wife, Dame Ruth Railton, and Edward Heath ...

Four Poems

Ruth Padel: Alligators, 21 March 2002

... Versions of Alligator Creation She made the world’s first alligator from a spine    Of sugar-cane, Binding the spring growth’s joints and knuckles,    Then rind-peelings, The eyes from saffron, tail from the leaves and fruit    Of betel-nut, Clay mould from a sheet of upish,    Squelching from sheaths Of betel-nut palm: and prayed    It might have life ...

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