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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Dinaane reviewed by New South Wales Law Review

DinaaneWhatever next? But you have to take them where you get them, and even though the review is really a stick, especially to the anthology as a whole, there are a few carrots to nibble on.

A fragmented landscape
by Jackie Shapiro, Law Society of NSW

Dinaane is a collection of 11 South African short stories by female writers which its publisher, Telegram describes as “showcasing contemporary women writers from around the world”. It attempts to probe the cultural consciousness of a country racially fragmented by apartheid. It offers interesting glimpses into the kaleidoscope of South African experience; however, stylistically its prose lacks the punch to stand out in the crowd.

For me, the most worthwhile features of the compilation are the way it examines the complexities of gender relations and promotes a strong female narrative voice. Joanne Fedler’s “A Simple Exchange of Niceties” explores motherhood beautifully. Colleen Higg’s (sic) contribution “Looking for Trouble” parallels the traumatic experience of domestic abuse with the macrocosmic social violence that is the reality of daily life in contemporary South Africa. In these stories Dinaane is successful in aligning the battle of the sexes with the country’s racial and political power struggles.

However, as an exploration of womanhood and nationhood, I had expected slightly more varied cultural fare. Only a few stories — Makhosazana Xaba’s “Running”, and Mary Watson Seoighe’s “The Lilitree” are two — give voice to an African experience not rooted predominantly in a Western consciousness. Xaba’s narrator is a member of the military wing of the African National Congress, setting the scene for a gritty, documentary-style narrative about sacrifice and betrayal. Seoighe’s story, by contrast, employs magical realism to situate Africa’s natural world in the tumultous South African cityscape.

Willemien de Villier’s “Coming in to Land” speaks of the “strange, patterned beauty” of the country’s visual landscape. Unfortunately, the prose of this collection fails to capture the country’s beauty at a narrative and imaginative level. While the stories are heartfelt, they lack the potency and skill of great South African writing such as J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

 

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