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Fiction

October 11, 1987|Peter R. Dreyer

THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR TO AFRICA by Denis Hirson (Carcanet: $14.95; 99 pp.). I recall visiting this "House Next Door to Africa" sometime around 1959. A youthful delegate to a Liberal Party congress in Johannesburg, I had been taken by someone to call on the author's father, an enigmatic figure of the left. Denis Hirson must have been a small boy at the time; perhaps I even saw him.

A few years later the father, despairing evidently of a better answer, became involved in a campaign of sabotage, blowing up electricity pylons. He spent a long time in prison; on his release, he and his family became exiles.

Denis Hirson now lives in France. From this novel--memoir would clearly be a better term--one might construe that he is naturally unpolitical. Of his memories of his boyhood home, of Granny Lily's apricot preserves and schoolground games of marbles, of helping his father secretly burn forbidden writings, of doors "sealed because of the bug that lives in the telephone at the far end of the passage," of violin and bayonet practice, of Special Branch raids and prison visits, he has fashioned this brief, poetic book conjuring up a South Africa at once rich and impoverished, terrible and wonderful, melancholy and desirable. Remembering is a wound to which the exile restlessly returns:

"Why do our memories appear only as the backwash of the wave? Does the sea have only a single shore?"

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