|The Hero of Currie Road by Alan Paton|
|Wednesday, 16 July 2008 03:02|
Published by Umuzi.
This collection of short stories by a South African master of the form must give enormous pleasure to convinced admirers of Paton and to people meeting his short fiction for the first time. Though all stories in the collection are not equally good, “Ha’penny”, “Debbie Go Home” and “A Drink in the Passage” rank amongst the best stories written in South Africa. All are of interest, and constitute a history of this country from before the beginning of the apartheid era until Paton’s death in 1988.
One of Paton’s strongest impulses was to help English speakers to understand Afrikaners – specifically Afrikaner men. “Life for a Life” shows a policeman who kills a suspect because there are no limits to his power over Coloured workers. “A Drink in the Passage” tells of an Afrikaner in whom the generous impulse to hospitality is at odds with the taboo on inviting a black man into his house. “The Perfidy of Maatland”, presumably written after the establishment of apartheid universities for black people, presents an Afrikaner who believes in educational segregation, but is committed to justice and the pursuit of learning. This rather programmatic piece is historically of great interest since it demonstrates Paton’s understanding of the split in the volk between the educated, liberalising group and the implacable officials of the state.For many, the stories which reflect his experience as Principal of Diepkloof Reformatory will be the most attractive, because of his compassionate engagement with his pupils, together with the necessity of applying regulations (and therefore of working through punishment). He understands that these deprived children have been exposed to a lifestyle in which theft, violence and distrust of the authorities have become habitual. “The Divided House” and “Sponono” are amongst the most attractive of the stories.
The beautiful cover of this edition promises a care in compilation of the collection which has not occurred. There is a comic error on the title page – an absurd nickname for Durban, perhaps? No author is acknowledged for the brief biographical introduction, nor for the Notes on Sources. The ordering of the stories is not chronological, nor is any other principle of order acknowledged. The subtitle on the cover is Complete Short Pieces, though Paton’s journalism, which is still extremely readable as well as voluminous, does not appear. These defects are minor, but collectively they give an impression of carelessness.