Wrapping Up My Son’s Story by Nadine Gordimer

Well, isn’t it funny–here this was the book I was most nervous about my groups reading; I thought people would find it too slow. Instead, save for a very few who found it a difficult read, most everyone just loved it. As you all know by now, it is one of my favorite books.

So, wrapping it up: what did everyone have to say about it? In no particular order:

  • Whose story is this? Well, this was answered on many levels, and more than one group pointed out that it may be the story of South Africa. Sonny, the Shakespeare-loving dad, handing over the reins to Will, who writes the true story of what happened. Or is it liberal-minded, free, and white Hannah handing over the reins to black, rebellious and silently powerful Aila?
  • Hey, but is the story true? Or is it, like one member pointed out, just one child’s hand-held video-cam rendition of his family? Remember who is narrating the story. Yes, Will is. So, although we think at times we are getting Sonny’s version, or Aila’s or Baby’s, we are only ever getting their version as mediated through Will.
  • And what kind of a narrator is Will? Hmm, as another member pointed out, only one of the least reliable narrators in literature! His motive: revenge! Will tells us, “…because I’ve begun a project–call it that–that needs solitude. I’ve found a use for the state, compromised and deserted, he dumped me in when he walked off so calmly with his blonde after an afternoon at the cinema.” (196) And then later he admits to us: “In our story, like all stories, I’ve made up what I wasn’t there to experience myself…Sometimes I can hear my voice breaking through, my judgments, my opinions elbowing in on what are supposed to be other people’s. I’ll have to watch out for that next time.” (275) So, this really is Will’s story–told by Will to us, and do we feel betrayed when we realize he’s been imagining a lot of it?
  • Hmm…the theme of betrayal is absolutely pervasive. Every which way we connect the dots, we come up wtih betrayal. Sonny betrayed his family, the struggle, himself, and Hannah; Will betrayed his father (when he wrote the story) and his own self (by becoming his father); the struggle betrayed Sonny; Hannah betrayed them while in the country and then when she upped and left; the list goes on…
  • The references to Shakespeare made us all want to read more Shakespeare–King Lear and Hamlet ring throughout this story. And we read Sonnet 13, from which the epigraph is taken, and more than one member was visibly moved by it. Reading this sonnet and realizing why Will is writing the story combines to bring home the absolute devastating effects Sonny and Hannah’s actions had on the family. One rather erudite member asked–are we to look at this story as a Shakespearian tragedy?
  • We all loved talking about the Oedipal dynamic going on between Will, Sonny, and Aila. Which brings us to Aila…her silence (representative of black South Africans under apartheid?) was, in the end, more powerful and stronger than any other force in the story. And she was committed to the struggle in a way that white Hannah showed she was not. Hannah, the liberal white wrapped up in the drama of another people. Swooping in like a savior, only to wreak destruction. See the poem on pp. 276-7. Most of us thought that the dove at the end, dashing in swift through the bars and breaking its neck against stone walls, was Hannah.
  • Why did Sonny go to Hannah–when it seemed like he and Aila really loved each other? Most members felt that as Sonny’s identity changed, as he became more ‘Sonny’ than Sonny, as he became the revolutionary as perceived by others, his own identity became tangled up with Hannah–who was also involved in the struggle. The politics, the power, the passion all became intertwined, and they never separated their feelings for each other from the love of the struggle and their positions of power in it.
  • Some members commented on how Sonny and Hannah’s relationship was more abstract than anything, well at least more abstract than Sonny and Alia’s very concrete day-to-day existence. “Joy. That was what went with it. The light of joy that illuminates long talk of ideas, not the 60-watt bulbs that shine on family matters.” (65)
  • And was Sonny treating the struggle in the abstract also? So that when he was called to act at the cleansing of the graves, he was not able to put his beliefs and values into concrete action?
  • Some members pondered whether Sonny’s political fall affected Hannah’s feelings for him.
  • Some members saw the venue where Will discovers Sonny and Hannah–the cinema–to be significant. I would agree, given his voyeurism that follows as he narrates their love story.
  • Oh gosh, there is so much more to this book, and I could just pick it up right now and read it all over again. However, I have to move on…

But how about you? What did you think of My Son’s Story, if you read it? And if you haven’t, do you think you will?

One thought on “Wrapping Up My Son’s Story by Nadine Gordimer

  1. I agree that it's interesting that Will met Sonny and Hannah as they came out of the movie theater because they were very narcissistic and also they seemed to be role-playing as revolutionaries, not really authentic.

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