I have read three quarters of the biography of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer titled No Cold Kitchen, and so far I find it an enjoyable read. I feel that Robert Suresh Roberts has a good writing style and yes, the book shifts from a documentary type to something of a tabloid, which I still think is OK. But I want to look at another possible reason why Gordimer may have objected to the book – something that was hinted at in an article on the topic I read in The Guardian (UK edition).
In the UK, there has been complaints from the Black (writing) community about an unprecedented number of black characters inhabiting today’s mainstream fiction best-seller lists, but few of them are created by black authors. So authors such as James Patterson, Maggie Gee, Alexander McCall Smith etc have been ‘attacked’ and Black writers are determined that they should be allowed to get in on their own act! Writers such as Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer are exempt from this because their writings are considered as ‘political’ writing and anyone who is looking to support the ‘cause’ must always be praised and respected. It was only when there was a fuss about Gordimer’s ‘July’s People’ being removed from reading lists/curriculum that the thinking here was that if that is what the Africans wanted then who are we to object?
But here you have a writer who happens to be Black, who seeks to write about a prestigious writer who happens to be White! My friends and I are thinking – here you have this incredible ironic situation of a White author who has made a reputation writing about Black people but totally reject or object to being written about by a Black author. If this is her objection then it is pure hypocrisy. As Suresh outlines in the final paragraph of My Problem is with you states quite clearly his relationship with Gordimer:-
“….worthwhile biography seeks intimacy without loyalty, proximity laced with dissent.”
One is tempted to think that Gordimer expected/wanted a biog that would make her personality as good and wholesome as her dedication to showing the truth about the ramifications of Apartheid in South Africa. Meeting a South African academic who had met Gordimer told me – Gordimer is a “good person but not a nice person”. But are we looking for someone with all her incredible experiences to be totally pristine and gleaming and no warts?? That would be unrealistic. In the same way that given all what Winnie Mandela went through, she is certainly not faultless and neither is she looking for any approval or to be liked! Gordimer should not be fearful or hypocritical and realize she has earned the right to be who she is. From the impressions I get from people I’ve spoken to in SA, she is truly respected.