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THE COMPAKATIST national character among—a particular group of intellectuals in early twentiethcentury China. Mary Scott San Francisco State University MICHAEL CHAPMAN. Southern African Literatures. London and New York: Longman, 1996. xxxi + 533 pp. It is a sad paradox ofour academic life that the more one hears repeated (in an almost incantatory fashion) phrases about the value ofmulticulturalism, the less it seems to be practiced; any kind ofearnest plunge into non-American cultural situations is undertaken reluctantly, with quick disgust I would say. Fortunately there are sometimes others who engage in the work that we should be doing ourselves, and one excellent example is die book at hand. Michael Chapman is a professor ofEnglish and Dean ofHumanities at the University ofNatal in Durban. His book was commissioned as part ofa Longman Series pointedly endowed with the title of"Literature in English" and edited by two professors from Lancaster University; about halfofthe projected books in the series are already in print. The total series will comprise no less than fifty volumes. True, about halfof these are devoted to the traditional and expected topics: "English Poetry ofthe Victorian Period," "English Drama before Shakespeare," and the rest. The other half, however, contains three volumes on criticism and literary theory (in historical sequence), six volumes on "intellectual and cultural context" (also in historical sequence), six volumes on American literature and, most innovatively, eight volumes on other topics: Irish, Scottish, Australian, Indian, Canadian, Caribbean, and "African Literature: East and West," as well as Michael Chapman's book. The latter has an additional distinctive feature: it does not confine itself to writing in English merely, but actually deals with a geographical and historical region. It includes sections on literature in Afrikaans (Boer), on Bushman (San) or Bantu songs and stories, and on literature written in Portuguese. The fact is that Chapman has a voracious understanding ofhis subject-matter: it includes notjust what is nowadays the Republic of South Africa, but also the independent nations ofZambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, and Lesotho with their intellectual and, more generally, historical developments. The result is fascinating, and certainly a major breakthrough in our knowledge ofthe region's literature and culture. I do not hesitate to recommend it as strongly as I can as a textbook and source-book for any class in which this part ofthe world is being studied. Chapman skillfully alternates chapters on the different cultures and languages, weaving a colorful quilt, in which (surprise, surprise!) some coherence can be detected. The remarks on Namibia as the "wild south-west" ofthe colonial imagination are brilliant, the tensions between humanism and censorship in Zambia , Malawi, and particularly Zimbabwe are thoughtfully examined, the key issue ofindividual emancipation versus communitarian resiliency (among African writers ofall races) isjudiciously pointed out. The above-mentioned coherence is achieved at a price: Chapman emphasizes very heavily the sociopolitical as a unifying framework. There is an almost deterVoIi 21 (1997): 181 BOOK NOTES ministic streak in his book with which I, for one at least, am a little uneasy. Moreover , the religious dimensions ofall these literary and intellectual-historical events are played down. The great Totius (the first translator ofthe Bible into Afrikaans) is barely mentioned, the Scottish-Presbyterian roots ofthe African National Congress remain unknown to the reader ofChapman's narrative, and even the remarkable feat ofthe 1 883 translation ofthe Bible into Zulu (earlier than the Afrikaans translation!) is not analyzed at all. Quibblers could adduce other small faults, for example the relatively minor run-in ofVan Wyck Louw (perhaps the greatest poet in Afrikaans and a staunch conservative) with the apartheid government is quoted twice. More seriously, one feels that Chapman's book isjust the first step toward an understanding ofthe mutual reliance ofthe Southern African literatures, a reliance that depends much more on tiieir imaginative substance and responses to their world than on their common geo-historical framework. Nevertheless, there are at least two extremely meaningful conclusions that I draw from this highly workmanlike study, which is also to be commended for its impeccable bibliographies and its scrupulous acknowledgment ofsources. One is that there is in Southern African literatures (no less than in Eastern and Central Europe, or in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 181-182
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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