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David Schmahmann PDF Print E-mail

David Schmahmann grew up and went to high school in Durban. His mother was one of the founders of the Progressive Party and ran for Parliament as its candidate in Berea. He served in the Fifth South African Infantry in Ladysmith, and then left the country. Schmahmann graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976,and Cornell Law School in 1979, and ended his law career as a senior partner in the Boston law firm founded by Justice Louis Brandeis.

To date he has published four novels: Empire Settings: A Novel of South Africa (2001), Nibble & Kuhn (2009), Ivory from Paradise (2011) and The Double Life of Alfred Buber (2011). Schmahmann has also contributed legal publications on issues such as animal rights, Burmese corporate law, and American constitutional legal issues.

Despite no longer living permanently in the country, KwaZulu-Natal remains close to his heart. In terms of the influence the province has had on his life, he told the project:


KZN didn't simply influence my writing; two of my four novels are set mostly in Durban, and while the stories are largely allegorical, at base they're about this extraordinary time, and lingering thoughts of the evocative place. My second novel, Ivory from Paradise, is in fact about history, and largely the history of KZN: to whom does the history belong, who has a right to recount it, and to lay claim to it, and can whites ever hope to have any real connection to indigenous history or are they simply visitors and their experience entirely ersatz?


Schmahmann has two daughters, Olivia and Annabel, and currently lives in Weston, Massachusetts. He is currently working on his next novel, The Color of Skin, which is loosely based on John Dunn’s life. The novel is written from the perspective of a descendant of Dunn’s, who lives in America, and is trying to come to terms with his origins.


Selected Work

Excerpt from Ivory from Paradise (2011:348):


I am driven too sternly by memories of the past and it is time, as Eben says, to try and let some of them go. I can start with those ragged, fake relics. I look across at my brother-in-law as he works his way through a government form. Bent over the table, a smudge on one lens of his reading glasses, in a baggy gray sweater. he seems, for a moment, quite fragile. I feel like I did the evening I saw Tesseba sitting in my mother's seat in the synagogue. Maybe this then is what happi­ness is, those little moments when your heart opens, truly opens, and you feel as if you could weep for all the good feelings that flood in.

Of course Bridget and Tibor's home is the appropriate place for them, just out of reach, nearby, not mine. Memory may be mischievous but it is also remarkable, self-cleaning, creative, ultimately as magical as a prediction.





2001. Empire Settings: A Novel of South Africa. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press.

2009. Nibble & Kuhn. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.

2011. Ivory from Paradise. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.

2011. The Double Life of Alfred Buber. NY: Permanent Press.


Short stories:


Baptie in her Homeland

The Healing Power of Dreams


Journal Articles


  1. Off The Precipice: Massachusetts Expands Its Foreign Policy Expands From Burma To Indonesia
by David R Schmahmann; James Finch; Tia Chapman

Publication: Vanderbilt journal of transnational law. 30, no. 5, (1997): 1021

Publisher: [Nashville, Vanderbilt University, School of Law]

Database: ArticleFirst


2. The Unconstitutionality Of State And Local Enactments In The United States Restricting Business Ties With Burma (Myanmar)

by David Schmahmann; James Finch

Publication: Vanderbilt journal of transnational law. 30, no. 2, (1997): 175

Publisher: [Nashville, Vanderbilt University, School of Law]

Database: ArticleFirst