November 2015
Zoë Wicomb

The ghosts of the past

By CATHERINE FAYE
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Is it because Zoë Wicomb grew up in Namaqualand, the arid region to the west of South Africa covered in a kaleidoscope of flowers every October, that she knows feast and famine, injury and recovery only too well? Her latest novel “October” raises the question of exile, and post-apartheid South Africa that never ceases to enf lame our inner sense of right and wrong, as the storyline of this new work revolves around displacement. In a striking parallel with her own life, the writer evokes the problem of racial identity and miscegenation. Her writing is enthralling, the rhythm of her sentences beats like the heartbeat of an endlessly self-questioning identity. Acclaimed by the great names in world literature, including Nobel prize-winner J.M. Coetzee — who describes her as a “brilliant mind” —, Zoë Wicomb is reserved and uncompromising, she doesn’t like to talk about herself and prefers to speak in public in front of her students at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, where she lives and teaches literature. With passion. The goddaughter of Toni Morrison, she says she leads a “ghost’s life” in Scotland. “All my intellectual and spiritual life is in South Africa”, she confides to anyone willing to listen. So, to build her characters, she invites other ghosts, those of the past, to intrude into her stories.

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