NADINE GORDIMERS 100th birthday

Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer

I’ve never kept a birthday book. However, I was always aware of these special days for family members and dear friends and sent them my greetings. Naturally, Nadine Gordimer was among them. Born in Springs on the Reef in 1923, I knew her family and friends were celebrating that day. I mourned her deeply in 2014, when she succumbed to a long illness.

She deserved every honor, not only on that day! Not only because of the accolade of the 1991 Nobel Prize she had won thanks to her “magnificent epic writing! It was her entire life and work that deserved it.” She had boldly and relentlessly presented the evils of apartheid during that epoch. She dedicated herself to this in a unique discipline, withdrawing at home to her small study after breakfast when she was not lecturing abroad. Together with her family, this filled her life. At the time, it was unknown that she had contributed to Nelson Mandela’s famous defense speech in 1964.

How great it would have been to celebrate her 100th birthday with her! I imagine the delicate figure in the living room with the beautiful works of famous impressionists and the Ernst Barlach sculpture. A side door led to the garden, from which one had a view of Johannesburg below. She could have received her guests there on the warm November days; she was always a good hostess. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Shortly before she passed away on July 13th, she had taken the trouble to scribble a few lines for a commemorative book for me. To my surprise and delight, we had become close in the 1950s.

Her childhood and upbringing were unusual. She is the daughter of a Russian Jew and an English Jew, yet she did not grow up in a Jewish atmosphere. She only attended the Catholic convent school briefly, where she was enrolled. Instead, her mother kept her at home, where she taught her. For some reason, she was under the impression that her daughter suffered from a weak heart. Isolated as Nadine was, she began to read and write at a young age. In 1937, the thirteen-year-old published her first stories. When I met her, she had just published her first book of short stories, which opened new doors.

In 1954, she married Reinhold Cassirer, a good friend of my partner. A businessman and art lover, he belonged to the elite German-Jewish Cassirer family, which included philosopher Ernst Cassirer and art dealer Paul Cassirer, among many others. Nadine’s first marriage from 1948 to 1952 had been with Gerald Gavronsky, brother of the well-known Helen Suzman, who had represented the opposition in parliament for 36 years, for thirteen of these from 1961 to 1974, as the only opposition member of the ruling National Party.

After publishing her first novel, “The Lying Days,” Nadine became a well-known literary and political anti-apartheid activist in the early 1960s.

Although we could only meet occasionally in different countries after my expulsion from South Africa, we continued to correspond. We never lost contact; the friendship endured.

I will always remember and miss her.