Monday, June 28, 2010

James McClure's Kramer and Zondi split up ...

The Gooseberry Fool (1974) is the third of James McClure's Kramer and Zondi novels, following on The Steam Pig and The Caterpillar Cop, and it may be the best of the three.

McClure splits Kramer and Zondi up, keeping the former in Trekkersburg fighting bureaucratic battles and sending the latter into a series of chilling encounters that may well explain why McClure did not start publishing mysteries until after he left his native South Africa for England.

Zondi tracks a murder suspect to a poor Zulu settlement, only to find it being destroyed by police, "an eviction. An ordinary Black Spot eviction, one of hundreds, an everyday event—and he had allowed his imagination to distort his vision."

I'm not sure apartheid-era South African governments of McClure's 1970s would have wanted the population reading such things.

Nor might everyone have felt entirely comfortable with the following, though it is pretty funny:
"Colonel Du Plessis lived with his unlovely family in a large bungalow on a small holding two miles west of Trekkersburg along the Tierkop road. There he boasted of maintaining the great agricultural traditions of his pioneer forefathers by employing three Kaffirs to grow flowers for market. His specialty was delphiniums."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Peter Temple said...

If memory serves, McClure somewhere describes a polished concrete verandah (the polishing was the first task of the day for a black servant in the old South Africa) as being 'as red and shiny as a tart's toenail'.

The regime didn't like the books but they were all available in South Africa and much loved by some whites.

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This could simply be the power of suggestion, but McClure may have invoked the tart's toenail in this novel, The Gooseberry Fool.

I'd imagine that some in the regime might not have enjoyed the spectacle of a Zulu and an Afrikaner working together (or would they have nervously insisted that this was evidence of harmony in the country?) I can also imagine that this third novel in the series may have caused even sharper intakes of breath than did the first two. Of course, even here, McClure avoids the sort of easy polemics that make ripe targets for banning.

In any case, it's interesting that he did not begin publishing fiction about South Africa until after he'd left. One can imagine any number of reasons for this, personal and political. The man might make a good subject for a biography.

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter,

Thanks for the additional info on McClure. Need to read THE STEAM PIG first.

Again, thanks for the heads up on WAKE UP DEAD. Not only did I really enjoy it, but it was a nice insight into S.A. I guess things have come along way, culturally and creatively, between the McClure & Smith era's

What I found interesting was Roger Smith went out of his way to explain a "coincidence" in the story.

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The Steam Pig" will probably be the easiest to obtain in the U.S., as Soho Crime is releasing that book along with "The Caterpillar Cop" -- first two in the series to get a new generation of U.S. readers started.

What's the coincidence in "Wake Up Dead"?

Regarding things' having come a long ay in South Africa, I was going to include in this post a passage from "The Gooseberry Fool" in which Kramer muses about "the country as a whole, its population 22 million, racking up 6,500 murders a year" and then ask readers to guess what year the quotation was from. Alarming crime statistics are no new thing in South Africa.

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Peter,

In the version I read it is CH 38, where Tatiana see's the Mercedes w/ Roxy driving go past her as she walks out of an apartment in Sea Point. He spends a few prior paragraphs explaining the difference between destiny and coincidence. After Tataiana see's this, he writes, it wasn't a coincidence,it was destiny. I can only think that Smith must have thought the reader,and maybe he himself thought of it as too coincidental. Just my observation.

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mmm, a bit of functional problem-solving on Smith's part, perhaps?

June 28, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's little doubt that McClure spoke Zulu, which sets him and his books apart from most white South African writers in any period.

Whites growing up in the province of Natal when McClure did often had male Zulu house servants. (For Zulu men, agricultural work was for women, which is why large numbers of labourers had to be imported from India to work in the Natal canefields.) These Zulu men, from a true warrior race, were imposing figures, not at all domestic drudges. They never surrendered their dignity and the children of the white households hung on their every – Zulu – word, effortlessly learning the language.

Elsewhere in the country, black women did the housework and spoke the language of the employers. Hence the white children did not learn the other indigenous languages and were ever the poorer for that.

June 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks, anonymous, for what may be the most informative comment this blog has received. Among other things, one might better understand now why McClure has Kramer treat Zondi with respect even amid some of the rough language. Your comment also dovetails nicely with a post I plan to put up in the next few hours.

I have noticed McClure's occasional use of a Zulu word. This always seems apt and never forced.

June 29, 2010  
Anonymous Peter said...

There is respect in the books. I typed in Peter for the language comment but the ghost in the machine rejected it. Let's see what happens this time

June 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You made it this time under your own name. In re respect, I wonder how American readers will react to kaffir in the McClure novels now being reprinted in the U.S. People tend to get upset easily about such matters here.

June 29, 2010  
Anonymous Peter said...

Is the term widely known in the US? Mark Mathabane called his autobiography Kaffir Boy. It was once on the NYT bestseller list. As a youngster, he was befriended by tennis greats Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith and went to the US. Among his books is a post-apartheid thriller called Ubuntu, published around 2000.

The term remains highly charged in South Africa, of course.

June 30, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had heard of that book. I suppose Arthur Ashe's role helps explain why Ashe is so revered in the U.S.

Kaffir has currency in the U.S. among anyone interested in South Africa. Those who do not know the word will not be long in figuring out what it means from reading McClure and will wonder at its use as a term of abuse, condescension and even rough affection. McClure wields words well.

June 30, 2010  

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