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Salt Water Runs in My Veins PDF Print E-mail
Written by T H Ngwenya   
Friday, 12 November 2010 07:58

by Prithiraj Ramkisun Dullay

Salt Water is a collection of richly-textured autobiographical accounts and opinion pieces by a respected anti-apartheid political activist and social commentator. In both sections of the book, the prose is lucid, crisp and evocative. Perhaps the most striking feature of this book is the innovative way in which the author weaves personal experience into compelling and engaging historical narratives and thus providing the reader with fresh insights into the lives of exiled political activists in the 1970s and 1980s. The reader is treated to what to an intriguing texualisation of personal and national political history in which characterisation, setting and narrative perspective are all used to good effect.

Significantly, all twenty one `stories’ in the first part of the book revolve around the narrator’s own experience of the author’s “exiles and homecomings ”. In spite of their overtly political nature, the stories are well-written engaging narrative reconstructions of the author’s and his family’s multi-faceted experience of political exile. What distinguishes these accounts of exile from similar narratives in this well-established South African genre is the both the narrative perspective and the novel re-definition of black consciousness ideology which provides the sub-text of all twenty one stories. Black Consciousness emerges as an ideology rooted in the commonly used but under-researched notion of ubuntu. Showing his awareness of the complex interplay between the past the present in historical writing, the author reminds us of an important dimension to this concept when he says `I am, because they were”. Stories such as `My father, the Teacher', `Learning from Mother' and `Biko is Dead’ all affirm the power of formative influences on the author’s growing political consciousness.  The narrator is at pains to explore and articulate the evolution of his own political consciousness ranging from his boyhood in Port Shepstone to the period of exile in Denmark.

The stories collected in this book alert us to the intimate connection between literature and history. With minor structural and thematic modifications, these stories could easily be turned into a conventional autobiography.  The author’s commentary on the contemporary situation post 1994 is informed by his personal values and beliefs acquired over sixty years of political activism. The author’s incisive analysis of contemporary social issues such as globalisation, capitalism and racism reveals the mind of an intellectual grappling with the fundamental question of the meaning of critical citizenship and civic responsibility in a liberal constitutional democracy. The author reminds us that not all problems of the past vanished in 1994. Central to the opinion pieces is the nagging issue of re-defining our identity: how do we define our Africaness in a country characterised by deeply entrenched racial , class and gender divisions?

Salt Water is a welcome addition to the growing literature of autobiographical re-valuation  of South African history written by people who played various roles in the struggle for liberation in this country. Like other texts in this genre, Dullay’s book explores the complex interconnections between memory and narrative representation.

 
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