Surviving Rape In South AfricaApril 10, 2012 No Comments
Achmat Dangor’s novel Bitter Fruit begins in post-apartheid South Africa, when Silas spots the police lieutenant who raped Lydia nearly twenty years before.
The novel follows the lives of the former activists, now married and seemingly settled into middle class life with a teenage son and a close circle of friends. The central themes are power and sexualized violence. The systematic use of rape to enforce power and attack the root of otherwise powerful structures, such as family and community, is viewed through the eyes of each central character, many of whom have put the violence of the former system behind them, yet are obliged to dredge through their past.
Dangor’s handling of the effects of rape on Lydia, the survivor, and the people in her life, many of whom indulge in sadness to an extent Lydia does not allow herself, is realistic. The author takes a sensitive look at the juxtaposition between traditional family roles and the violence of a country thick with hatred and oppression.
The prose is organic. The atmosphere of the book is sound and smell, and takes an unromantic look at everyday domesticity and awkward relationships. The mother and son relationship between Lydia and Mikey is particularly well done, as is the tension between Lydia and Kate.
Although this novel is, to its core, about South Africa, I found it relatable and the sexualized violence disturbing in its similarity to other stories from communities and nations in conflict. Lydia is an unusually rounded character, held up as not simply a rape survivor, but a human being.
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