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Sunday, May 12

The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

I find it fascinating to read about women who get empowered when they become displaced from their comfort zones; Julie Summers is a white woman who has no apparent purpose in her own wealthy world and who falls in love with an Arab man, whom she follows to the end of desert where her limited horizon widens, under the scorching heat. The Pickup is supposedly the love story of two people trapped between two antagonistic worlds, a rich novel that explores notions of race, culture, personal freedom or identity.

Julie's car breaks down so she ends up in a garage where she gets her car fixed by Abdu. She is struck by his unusual appearance so she picks him up and they start a relationship that seems to be doomed from the beginning since Abdu, the mechanic, is an illegal immigrant. Julie is a PR professional who comes from a well-off family and has a mind of her own. She introduces him to her friends and to his father and his second younger wife, disregarding their obvious reactions to the inappropriate relationship. Eventually, Abdu is forced to return to his nameless native country and faced with the perspective of losing him, Julie decides to marry him and follow Abdu to the country he loathes. They marry in haste and travel to a poor Islamic village where meeting his large and poverty-stricken family humiliates Abdu and grows into an adventure for Julie. While Abdu/Ibrahim searches for legal asylum, Julie falls in love with the remote, arid land and her husband's family and way of life. Each rejection fills the man with resentment and frustration and Abdu (now Ibrahim) is astonished when Julie starts working alongside the other women in the family, thus acknowledging that she has found purpose in her aimless life. The final blow comes when Julie refuses to join her husband to America, the land of opportunities that doesn't discriminate against immigrants from all over the world.

Nadine Gordimer, a fervent supporter of personal freedom and a restless fighter against apartheid, has now taken the opportunity to reflect upon the post-apartheid changes and the way they affect the African society. Her characters are portrayed with subtlety, the descriptions are amazing and she has a fine eye for the details that shape the relationship between two different people. This is not a happy love story of two people who overcome race and class differences and who are drawn to each other's dissimilarities; on the contrary, Abdu/Ibrahim and Julie have nothing but one thing in common: sex. This is the universal language that binds them and that seems to function regardless of their unspoken truths, location or hardships. It is the ultimate form of communication that fails to bring them closer in spirit and in choices. The man is anxious to escape the world of poverty that limits his aspirations whereas the independent, 29-year-old white South African, emancipated woman falls in love with the desert and binds her heart forever to this desolate land. 

Journeys are always bound to bring change and accomplishment; Julie's trip to the end of the world hasn't deepened the love for her husband but grew into a more powerful feeling for the remote land and its people. Is their love going to survive change and bring Abdu/Ibrahim back into Julie's arms or is he going to leave his wife behind, in this impoverished country? Has Julie's initial rebellion and search for the meaning of life come to an end? Nadine Gordimer's elegant writing offers no blunt answer to these dilemmas but who wants to read about flawless heroines and supermen? Her characters are not inviting in terms of affection or empathy but the reader feels slowly drawn to the simple style and the richness of the personal interactions. In life, we do not always need other people or love to define ourselves, we need to complete our personal journey that will reveal our true nature and purpose in life.
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