Achmat Dangor Launches Strange Pilgrimages at Exclusive Books Hyde Park
Joburgers came out in their numbers on Wednesday to celebrate the launch of the latest book by Achmat Dangor, Man Booker Prize shortlisted author of Bitter Fruit and former Executive Director of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Strange Pilgrimages, a collection of nine short stories, is described as an illuminating portrayal on the “struggle years” in South Africa and how the past impacts on us in a variety of ways. It offers a different take on that period of our history through the introduction of a range of characters and their journeys, both literal and metaphorical. The link between them is that each undertakes a “pilgrimage” into the past and shows the impact this has on their lives.
Terry Morris of Pan Macmillan noted that it has been ten years since the publication of Bitter Fruit and that she hopes Dangor will not keep us waiting another ten years for his next offering. She described this collection of stories as having a collective and individual impact, both entertaining and unsettling, with multi-layered sexuality evident throughout.
In his address, Dangor was quick to point out that the sexual encounters were neither gratuitous nor autobiographical! As a taste of what the stories had to offer, he read an extract from “Goodbye, Goodnight”, the last chapter of Part One, “Africans Abroad”. It deals with the trauma experienced when people who thought they knew the past find out that it’s completely different.
The narrator is a man who works in an archival institution – “Again, nothing to do with my recent job!” – who discovered that the woman he loved was a double agent, working both for the apartheid Bureau of State Security (BOSS) and a major political party. The extract described their strange meeting many years later in New York, how she abandons him in her apartment the next day, leaving a note asking him to take her cat (the Goodnight of the tale) and leave it at the Chelsea Pier. Later, back home in Johannesburg, he goes through the file on her spying activities and sends it back to the archives with the recommendation that no further action be taken. He writes a last poem to her and toasts her memory with a glass of red wine.
Ariel Dorfman has said of the book, “Rarely has the loneliness that besieges men and women after a successful revolution been treated with more tender and brutal honesty”.