Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

Nobel Prize winning authors can be intimidating; their novels are often loaded with weighty issues and problems that are nowhere near tackled in the space of a story.  In fact, I'm coming to learn that some novels pose questions without answers and simply ask that we consider.  From whatever place in a writer that asks questions, South African author Nadine Gordimer tapped into that space in her novel The Pickup.

Synopsis:  A white South African woman, Julie Summers, one day finds herself in an auto shop to get her car fixed after an unexpected breakdown.  There she meets Abdu, a Muslim Arab man who comes from a world apart from her own privileged upbringing.  The two easily slip into a relationship that is built on common threads of interconnection, ignoring social ideals centered on race.  However, after moving in together and building a casual life without interruptions in Julie's Johannesburg apartment, they find that Adbu's citizenship has been recalled.  Without citizenship, Abdu must return home and Julie decides to return with him.  To his home, Adbu finds that what he easily accepted in Julie in South Africa becomes more difficult once they return home.  Rather than money and status, Abdu has brought home a white wife who knows or understands little of the hardships his family and people go through to survive on the edge of the desert.

Touted as a Romeo and Juliet love story, The Pickup aptly brings together two culturally different people in love.  As with Shakespeare's play, can love be enough to pull two people through a world that asks them to be apart.

Review:  The Pickup was an easily accessible story to fall into.  In little to no time, I found that Julie became a character that I felt familiar and at home with.  Although engaged in a love story with an Arab Muslim man who grew up worlds apart in social standing, Julie somehow easily overlooked the structures put in place to separate them.  Not once did I look at the couple and think, "Wow, this is odd," or "I wonder if Julie or Abdu feel out of place."  In fact, I found Julie's complete lack of tension towards their relationship very interesting.  The author really seemed to create a character that responded to her world the way we have idealized; Julie seemed to be unaffected by the judgments of society.

Although I sometimes thought the quirky non-tension of the first half of the book to be odd, I enjoyed the suspension of conflict for our characters.  There were observations made by Julie that showed that she recognized that Abdu was "different" for her, but not that she ever judged him or herself for those differences.  It wasn't until they moved back to his desert home that an unseen tension crept in.  This time, it seemed to be Abdu judging what they had together, fearing how Julie would face his harsh life and seeing it through her eyes.

Racial and social tensions are present in The Pickup, but not in the explicit ways one would normally expect. There is a subtlety and softness in the stress that builds in the relationship between upper-class Julie and the immigrant Abdu, indicative of a control over language by the author.  It is obvious that the two characters love one another, but not in an outrageous, over-the-top passionate way.  The steady treading forward movement of the novel was delightful and one that was intriguing to explore with our two characters.   Love was present and pressing forward,  challenged as in all relationships, but by different forces.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.


  1. If it's a Romeo and Juliet love story, I'm guessing it doesn't have a happy ending.

  2. Maybe it's Romeo & Juliet in a Taylor Swift kind of way. :)

  3. You two are funny. I have to say, I actually didn't see any comparisons to Romeo and Juliet other than the fact that they weren't supposed to be together, culturally speaking. That was just a blurb I kept reading over and over again. I will tell you this--there isn't a death in the novel. :)