Tatamkhulu Afrika, 'Bitter Eden'

IssueSeptember - November 2003
Review by Sarah Irving

Tatamkhulu Afrika, 83 this year, had his first novel obliterated by the Blitz. Of Middle Eastern origin, he fought the Nazis in World War Two and apartheid in South Africa. In German prison camps he performed with Denholm Elliott. And in South Africa he is a renowned poet.


Now, finally, his prose is available in print. It's powerful stuff, based on his experiences as a PoW in North Africa and Occupied Europe. In content and style, though, the book is less a standard WWII memoir than the novels of, say, Pat Barker. Like Barker's Regeneration trilogy it takes an in-depth look at the human relationship in wartime, especially the nature and permutations of male homosexuality.

Despite often blunt depictions of the physical effects of prison-camp life (including the impact of starvation on the digestive system) the delicate balance between tactile friendship and sexual intimacy is explored, with all its accompanying pain and confusion.

As a woman I was a little surprised to be given a book apparently focusing so specifically on the male experience, but after reading it I can only hope that in the 60 years since the blitzing of his first volume Tatamkhulu Afrika has produced more such gems of the exploration of the human condition.

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