Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shadow cities

I wonder to what extent South Africa's emergence from apartheid has let the country's authors look clearly at the divisions that once existed and that still remain.

Here's a bit from "The Meeting," the heart-pounding short story by Margie Orford that opens the Bad Company collection of South African crime writing:

Claire Hart turned off the freeway, the off-ramp sinking her into Khayelitsha, Cape Town's teeming shadow city sprawling unmapped across the sand dunes south of the airport. The houses, makeshift cubes of corrugated iron and wood, roofed with black plastic, homed half a million people, maybe a million. No one was counting.
Roger Smith sees Cape Town in similar terms in his novel Wake Up Dead, where the city's dangerous Flats have resolved themselves into antagonistic territories defined by gang rule:

A woman in a Muslim headscarf scuttled across the road, carrying a plastic shopping bag and a tub of Kentucky chicken, and disappeared into Dark City. Otherwise the road was empty and silent.
Dark cities, shadow cities, alternative cities. Sounds something like those dirty towns Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett used to write about, doesn't it?

As always, read up on the latest South African crime writing at the Crime Beat site, including a discussion of Orford's novel Daddy's Girl.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger Roger Smith said...

Peter, when arriving in Cape Town, the first thing a visitor sees after leaving the airport is the ghetto sprawl described in the excerpts above. Then the freeway leads toward familiar picture-postcard territory: the mountain and the ocean. Economic apartheid is still with us.

March 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder who first invoked the shadow city. Maybe St. Augustine's City of God is a distant ancestor. It's a literary device of great power because it reminds a reader that the otherwordly is not quite so otherworldly after all.

March 17, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Roger, that's not rare except possibly in size and scope, in my experience. Once you leave the airport here and head for Waikiki you drive along Auto Row, a road with seemingly endless car dealerships on either side. If it's not car dealerships, it's light industrial buildings: warehouses and other ugly things.

March 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Size, scope and depth, perhaps. The misery and danger of the Cape Town Flats in Roger's book and of Margie Orford's shadow city are much more precipitious descents from paradise than most of us are used to. I suspect people there would be grateful for car dealers and light industry.

March 18, 2010  

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