The book is a fictionalized and fragmentary biography. The biographer presents the Nobel Prize winner's notebooks 1972-75, interviews with five people who knew the author, and undated fragments from his notebooks. The accounts are largely unflattering.
This morning as I finished the novel (the genre designation on the title page is "Fiction"), I was left wondering about my own deficiencies, awkwardness, guarded personality, loyalties, and relationships with my parents.
And about my rejections of and identifications with the religion I was raised in and whose tenets I practiced for 40 years.
Here's a passage from Summertime that seems to get at complexities I recognize:
So we have the case of a man who spoke the language only imperfectly, who stood outside the state religion, whose outlook was cosmopolitan, whose politics was -- what shall we say? -- dissident, yet who was ready to embrace an Afrikaner identity. Why do you think that was so?
My opinion is that under the gaze of history he felt there was no way in which he could separate himself off from the Afrikaners while retaining his self-respect, even if that meant being associated with all that the Afrikaners were responsible for, politically.
Was there nothing that drew him more positively to embrace an Afrikaner identity -- nothing at a personal level, for example?
Perhaps there was, I can't say. . . . He had been rebuffed by the Afrikaners too often, rebuffed and humiliated -- you have only to read his book of childhood memories to see that. He was not going to take the risk of being rejected again.
So he preferred to remain an outsider.
I think he was happiest in the role of outsider. He was not a joiner.