Elleke Boehmer (1961-) was born to Dutch parents in Durban, South Africa in 1961. She was educated in South Africa and at Oxford University. She taught at the School of English at Leeds University and has published four novels: Screens against the Sky (1990), An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (2000) and Nile Baby (2008). She has also published short stories in magazines, journals and anthologies. Her research is in postcolonial writing and theory, feminism and the literature of empire, and at the moment she is the Hildred Carlile Professor in Literatures in English at the University of London. Amongst her non-fiction works are Altered state? (1994); Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (1995), Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial,1890-1920: Resistance in Interaction (2002). Boehmer edited the anthology Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature, 1870-1918 (1998), Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship by Robert Baden-Powell (2004) and Cornela Sorabji’s India Calling (2004). She produced a special edition in the journal Kunapipi on the writings of the Anglo-Boer War (1999) and her study Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation was published in 2005. Boehmer is also the author of Mandela: A Very Short Introduction (2008), part of highly popular Oxford University Press series.
In 2016 her novel, The Shouting in the Dark, was longlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction prize.
Excerpt from An Immaculate Figure (1993):
Sipho took up the story-telling thread from Rosandra. It was a good thread, he said, but maybe he could bring it down to earth. He told a story of his grandmother, an upstanding fierce old woman who was a devout Catholic and yet went about the amulets of her ancestors’ faith sewn into the hems of her church dresses. This woman, Lindiswe Frances Nyembe, lived in a township close to the place where the old Indian prophet, the man who believed in justice and peace, what was his name, Gandhi, once set up a communal centre. She used to tell the children in that area – there were many children, many houses in all directions – about this old prophet. She would tell them that his spirit still lived there in that place and they should honour it. But as the years went by the pressure on that land grew very great. There were so many people, so little land, and so much anger in the people that it became more and more difficult to tell them to show respect for that special piece of earth and the spirit of the man who onced lived there. And so the day came, Sipho said, that the people were so severely pressed against the walls of their shacks and – even though their bellies looked like balloons – so hungry, that they moved and built their tin-can homes and cardboard-box shacks even where the prophet’s house had been. And so they forgot about him. And then the grandmother, feeling the anger and distress of the people but also the distress and sadness of the spirit of the place, asked why in this land must everything that was good and strong and long-lasting be trampled into the earth? Why could the prophet’s place not be preserved while at the same time giving room to the people? She asked her children and her grandchildren this question, over and over again, and she went also to the city authorities and asked it there. People could not completely ignore her because she was an old woman and demanded respect. Every so often – to this day, Sipho imagined – she went into town to visit the municipal offices and ask these difficult questions, and every day she prayed, and so she tried to keep a piece of history surviving on the land. (pg. 205)
2015. The Shouting in the Dark. Johannesburg. Jacana.