With the publication of Kafka's Curse, Achmat Dangor established himself as an utterly singular voice in South African fiction. His new novel, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award, is a clear-eyed, witty, yet deeply serious look at South Africa's political history and its damaging legacy in the lives of those who live there.
The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas's wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband's participation in Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis' fragile peace. Meanwhile Silas and Lydia's son, Mikey, a thoroughly contemporary young hip-hop lothario, contends in unforeseen ways with his parents' pasts.
A harrowing story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the past's deepest wounds.
Early in Dangor's embittered second novel about his native South Africa, aloof, independent 19-year-old Mikey comes to the realization that "history has a remembering process of its own, one that gives life to its imaginary monsters." This understanding of the past informs the thoughts and actions of the characters, which the author of Kafka's Curse explores in meticulous detail. Mikey's parents, Silas and Lydia Ali, are members of the black middle class in postapartheid South Africa. But when Silas, a lawyer for the Justice Department, encounters the white police lieutenant who raped his wife two decades before, old wounds open in his and Lydia's already strained marriage. Mikey discovers that he may be the product of his mother's violation and sets out to explore his familial roots, taking a type of "apartheid heritage route" that leads him to Silas's father's mosque. Here, he learns of his grandfather's own struggle with colonialism in India a generation earlier. Dangor's novel, a Man Booker Prize finalist, interrogates the forgiving attitude of people like Archbishop Tutu, and, as Silas puts it, "the namby-pambying of God's ferocious legions." In this environment, where even incestuous transgressions can be rationalized away, Mikey finds vengeance as a way to order the decayed social structures around him. Dangor's work is a bleak look at modern South Africa in the vein of J.M. Coetzee's novels, but from the perspective of black South Africans.