Gordimer's Universal Themes

'JUMP and Other Stories," by Nobel Prize-winner Nadine Gordimer, is the literary equivalent of a searing stare, a politically passionate excursion into the darkness, fears, and follies of the human mind.Humor is not one of Gordimer's tools in this collection. She maintains her reputation as doyenne of South African writers by zeroing in relentlessly. She seems to tear wire-service stories straight out of Southern African newspapers and breathes mental and moral life into them. She pierces directly to the core of her fictional characters' thinking. The intensity of her writing commands you to sit up straight and pay attention. It's not really accurate to say Gordimer is writing only of or from Africa. Most of the stories take place there, in what seems to be suburban Johannesburg, or a South African township, or Mozambique. But she doesn't say for sure. By not specifying, she nudges the reader's focus onto the universals. "Once Upon a Time," for example, is a stunning fairy tale of how fear works - and turns on those who let it rule them. The title story, "Jump," is perhaps the most breathtaking. It quietly seethes with the bitterness of someone who's been wronged, but succeeds - briefly - in making a sweet living by revenge. But one of her most harrowing Some Are Born to Sweet Delight is the fictional fleshing out of one of the theories of how Pan Am Flight 103 came to be blown to bits over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December, 1988. Most of the tale is disarmingly tranquil. The horror of international terrorism lounges quietly in the background until the chilling finish. Gordimer touches on much more - for instance, the fear of being left by a loved one in the story called "Home." In a Gordimer-like twist, the woman leaves the man not for another lover - but for a cause, trying to defend her family from the police. She reveals insights into life on the lam in "Safe Houses," and into what may lie behind the relationship of a white man who accidentally kills his colored farm laborer in "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off." Gordimer never pretends to offer solutions to the heartbreaking and at times horrifying situations in the tales she spins from this decade's headlines. But she is at her intensely spare best at fleshing out the people behind those news stories and telling us if and how they survived - and the price they paid.

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