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Biography of Alex LA GUMA

South Africa > Literature : Alex LA GUMA

Born on 20/02/1925 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Alex La Guma (February 20 1925- Oct 11,1985), was a  South African writer and political activist.

La Guma  Alex(ander) (1925-85), South African short-story writer and novelist, was born to a "colored "(mixed-race) family in Cape town.His parents were active in left wing politics and the labor movement, and La Guma grew up conscious of the political and socioeconomic implications of South Africa's separatist policies. He did not begin writing fiction until after he turned thirty. He wrote five novels, over a dozen short stories and many political essays. He was repeatedly harassed by the South African government as a result of his political activities, and emigrated to England in 1966. Most of his work, fiction and non-fiction deals with South African subjects, focusing on the conflict between the races. Throughout his work, he stresses the importance of collective action and the need to care for others.

La Guma's strength lies in the short story form. His curiosity about the poverty, despair, oppression, and hopes of humanity combines with a deep concern about their suffering and affliction that inhabits the minutest detail of the fictional environment: the physical state of buildings, the smells that emanate from them, and the lives caught up in this environment. His first short story, 'Nocturne' (1957), reveals his ability to capture atmosphere, speech, and surface meaning. The straightforward narrative of a young man planning a robbery who is disturbed by classical music streaming in from outside blends event, scene, effective inner dialogue, and moral aim, making a point about social environment, status, transcendence, and South Africa's racist ugliness. La Guma saw his task, in a way, as similar to an African storyteller's, namely to record events as told to him and fashion a narrative both moral and entertaining.

In his first novel, A Walk in the Night (1962), La Guma describes the political and social existence of the "colored" people of the District Six slum in Cape Town. He examines the life of the district though the actions of four characters during the course of one night. He focuses on the decay and despair of the slum, whose residents are frequently too absorbed by their own miserable state to react to it, and thus suffer alone. In doing so, he explores the connection between rights and responsibilities through the unfolding of his characters' decisions and actions.

In the Fog of the Season's End (1972), his most autobiographical novel, La Guma describes the South African struggles through characters who are involved in political resistance, unlike the lonely victims of his earlier works. Although the main character, Beukes, has reached the conclusion that collective action is essential to solving the problems of South Africa's system, the author uses flashbacks to reveal the squalor and despair which are the source of the political movement. The characters overcome the isolation and disconnectedness which plague the subjects in his earlier works in order to work together towards their goal.

Throughout his fictional writings about South Africa, La Guma explores the tension between human rights and social responsibility against the backdrop of the nation's separatist policies. The moral development of his characters is closely tied their potential to improve their country's future.

Last update : 12/12/2009

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