As Hazel Rochman has written, "Great literature humanizes history." Beverly Naidoo's new collection of short stories is excellent literature, and it humanizes the history of apartheid in South Africa. Each story in Out of Bounds represents a decade of that history, dramatizing a crucial political act in the step-by-step, decade-by-decade suppression of the rights of Africans. Readers will feel they have read a great book and gained a good deal of understanding at the same time.
Many of the Afrikaners who took over the South African government in 1948 had been supporters of Adolph Hitler. They institutionalized racism through the passage of hundreds of laws classifying the so-called races and defining the respective rights and restrictions of the classes. The stories in this superb collection are grounded in the everyday experience of children Whites, Coloreds, Indians and black Africans who daily faced the effects of racism. "The Dare" (1948) portrays a white girl who gains a bit of understanding when her stealing of poinsettias is overlooked, while a black boy who stole an orange from the same man is beaten. In "One Day, Lily, One Day," (1960) Lily says, "I didn't understand that Uncle Max wasn't allowed to take me a little white girl to the park because he was black. When the police took Daddy away, I didn't understand that as well."By 1995, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison after 27 years, apartheid laws had been cancelled, and democratic elections had been held. Schools were opened to all children, yet some white parents and teachers resisted. "The Playground" (1995) portrays the tension and the hope as schoolchildren made their way in this new world.
Grim as the history is, the spirit of this collection is hopeful. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says in his foreword, the history must be acknowledged and the new democracy supported. "Never again will we want to treat fellow human beings in this fashion." Naidoo writes, "There have been many different tests for the human spirit in South Africa the land in which I was born and they are the stuff of my stories." A fine collection it is, sure to be among the best and most important books of the new year.
Dean Schneider is a middle school English teacher in Nashville.