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Bitter Fruit    by Achmat Dangor order for
Bitter Fruit
by Achmat Dangor
Order:  USA  Can
Black Cat, 2005 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

We have read much about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the attempt to redress publicly many of the ills of apartheid. What we have not understood is how apartheid has affected people on the personal level. Bitter Fruit shows us one family who suffered a rape and who really cannot get past it.

Silas and his wife Lydia have never spoken of that night when the Afrikaner police locked him up in their car and took her off to be brutalized. Silas continues his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and, though they both pretend life is going on as before, there has been a definite separation between the two. Years later when Silas chances on the policeman who raped Lydia and tells her about it, it opens wounds that will affect their entire family and friends, and will not heal.

Not only do the consequences of apartheid bear bitter fruit but also the new-found freedoms, and this is shown in Silas' and Lydia's son Mikey. This young man, who seems fairly rootless and amoral, finds a secret diary of Lydia's and deduces that he is the offspring of the rape. This sets off the final part of the book. In it, Mikey determines to find his birth father and to learn about his adoptive father's family. And his nuclear family falls apart.

This is a difficult work. One can question (my book club did) whether Dangor succeeded in his characters. Often we are told of their foibles rather than being shown who they are. It is also an interior view of life - we get very little of the sights and smells of the South Africa of today. Another regret is that the American editors did not correct the copy errors of the original South African edition.

Yet as a portrait of how difficult it is for individuals to get past a shattering incident, juxtaposed against a society trying to do the same on a national scale, Bitter Fruit is masterful.

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