Disgrace

Disgrace

DisgraceEvery time I talk to a friend going to Africa on safari I worry whether or not he or she will come home alive. It’s a morbid thought, I know, but in a country so lawless, so filled with genocide, famine and general shenanigans, it’s hard to imagine those safari tour guides can guard rich American tourists from everything (including ak-47-toting twelve-year-olds and stampeding rhinoceroses). One of my best friends from high-school was from South Africa–the setting of this book–and the country seemed to have a real affect on him. It seemed to be a living being inside his soul, always surfacing at odd times. Sometimes when inebriated he would talk about the times of apartheid and how much he hated and was ashamed of his homeland, but at the same time he missed it, as if some part of him was left behind. That may be the case with any recent immigrant, but Africa really had some magic I hadn’t heard my other friends from Argentina, Korea and Italy talk about in such mystic terms. Reading this book reminded me of those talks, but added in that element of lawlessness and danger that always tinges my perception (whether it’s deserved or not). There is a bit of that shame and anger as well, as our white protagonist struggles to reconcile violence against his family and his dealings with pre and post South Africa. So Professor Lurie is basically tossed out of his teaching job at a Cape Town University for having a relationship with one of his students. We’re not made to feel bad for the guy, as he is kind of a weird jackass about the whole thing, resigning rather than facing suspension and censure. In an attempt to reconnect with his daughter and sort out his life, he goes out to stay with her in the boonies. I imagined either the Old West or the Australian outback, both of which are sparsely populated and filled with danger. The narrative continues from there, with bad things happening and lots of anguish and stuff. The plot is extremely linear and straight forward, which is something I’m honestly not used to, but works for the most part here. Lurie is a reasonably interesting character, and we do see his arc, but his daughter’s character is somewhat underplayed and could have been a stronger force in the plot. While there are some semi-powerful sections of the book, I have a feeling things would be exponentially more important if I were actually South African, or at least had a better handle on my history of the region. I came away not feeling one way or another about the book, and while I recognize it as a well written tale of a man’s journey through trauma and shame, it didn’t hit home the way it should have. Maybe I’m just a cold, unfeeling bastard.

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