Grease-Monkeys and Bedouin Girls: The Rhetorical Fate of Arabs and Muslims in Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup.
By Daniel Martin Varisco, Tingis Redux, December 11, 2010

Novels tell Stories, allowing readers to fantasize about reality but with no obligation to represent that reality as anything other than fantasy. Good novels, at least the kind that garner a Nobel prize for their author, capture the imagination through creative engagement and style. The South African author Nadine Gordimer has been writing about the shame of apartheid in her native land for more than half a century. Her focus on the moral and psychological tensions of racial inequality provides a welcome political stamp to her fiction. Yet, sometimes in telling one kind of story, especially teasing out the relationships of lovers across cultural boundaries, another story can be read between the lines. The Pickup, Gordimer’s acclaimed novel which pairs a privileged South African white girl named Julie with an Arab Muslim and illegal alien named Abdu, traces an unlikely love story but leaves the identity of Abdu literarily in the dust, the dust of a stereotyped Orientalist denigration of his homeland and his religion. One need not follow Edward Said’s controversial contrapuntal reading to find in this novel a generic image of Arab and Muslim that serves the plot only in its unrelenting negative portrayal. The Pickup, whatever its merits as a close study of personal dislocation, succeeds by picking on distorted images of Arab and Muslim.

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