23 August 2009

The Pickup

August is nearly over (and it's freezing cold here in Iowa - 60 degrees when it should be 90) so Literature by Women is wrapping up its discussion of Nadine Gordimer's The Pickup. The novel revolves around the relationship between Julie Summers, white, native South African, and Abdu, illegal immigrant from an unnamed Middle Eastern country. This has been one of our harder titles to discuss. I'm not quite sure what to do with it and since I'm the moderator my indecisiveness doesn't help.

That's not to say it's a bad book. Gordimer has an interesting style in this book, eschewing punctuation as regards dialogue, and it makes the book very chatty, like you're in a crowd with people talking all around you and it's up to you as the listener to sort out who is saying what. She also brings up an interesting point regarding the plight of the immigrant; if no other country wants you, and all you want is a better life, you are reduced to the status of a refugee begging entry unless you have the silver to cross another's palm.

Julie does irritate the heck out of me, less so near the end of the book, mostly due to the poor-little-rich-girl-who-appears-to-refute-her-family's-status-because-she's-pretending-to-be-bourgeois-but-really-still-benefits-financially attitude. Julie is really very aimless. All Julie and The Table do at the El-Ay Cafe do is moan about varying plights of the people of the world and still don't seem to do anything but talk. When Julie does grow a spine and insist on going with Abdu I was heartened only to realize she doesn't know anything about Muslim habits. She doesn't even think to pack modest clothing; even I would know to do that. She does eventually find a purpose and definition to her life and even though that isn't even remotely the life I would choose for an educated woman it does work in this instance.

This was an interesting book to read even though I had a difficult time finding an angle to discuss adequately. I think this was due to the setting; it felt something like the US but then it obviously isn't set in the US, it was in South Africa and that changed how I was relating to the characters. Particularly Julie. This one definitely needs a re-read sometime in the future.

Next up for LbW: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Come join us August 31.

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