City Lovers by Nadine Gordimer, 1975
The magic trick:
Souring the would-be perfect rebel romance with racism
“City Lovers” rails against Apartheid in South Africa with a story of drama and heartbreak. An Austrian geologist engages in an illegal romance with a so-called colored woman from Johannesburg. It’s absurd and awful that their relationship is illegal, of course, and this puts the geologist on the right side of the story’s moral compass. But even here the racism is ugly. He is initially attracted to the woman because she “was rather small and finely made for one of them.” The gleam of heroism begins to fade, doesn’t it? The entire society is broken. And that’s quite a trick on Gordimer’s part.
He arrived back in town just before nightfall on Friday and was on the way from his car to his flat, arms full filled with briefcase, suitcase and two canvas bags when someone stopped him by standing timidly in his path. He was about to dodge round unseeingly on the pavement but she spoke. “We got the blades in now. I didn’t see you in the shop this week, but I kept some for when you come, so…”
He recognized her. He had never seen her outdoors before and she was wearing a coat. She was rather small and finely made for one of them. The coat was skimpy, but she did not show a typical big backside. The cold brought a graining of warm color to her cheekbones, beneath which her very small face was quite delicately hollowed. Her skin was smooth, the subdued satiny color of some yellow wood.
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