Bloomsbury £30

Life Times: Stories 1952-2007, By Nadine Gordimer

Daring tales that span South Africa's history

Nadine Gordimer, now 87, will not be producing an autobiography. Instead, the South African writer has compiled two volumes of her work as testament to her life. The first was Telling Times, her collected non-fiction writing, published earlier this year; its companion volume, Life Times, is an extraordinary, broad and searching collection of short stories written throughout her life.

It begins with "The Soft Voice of the Serpent", an almost whimsical vignette from 1952. A young man who has lost a leg is recuperating in a garden chair when he sees that the locust his wife has just swatted away has been injured in this act of violence: it, too, has lost a leg. It is an early story, but one can already see Gordimer's power as a close and unusual observer of human emotion. It is also a well-chosen story with which to start the volume, in that, in its account of a man's attempt to empathise with another's suffering – tempered by a bitter acknowledgement of the great divide between them – it reflects the themes of many of the subsequent stories.

In "The Smell of Death and Flowers", Joyce, a South African naif, becomes drunk at a Johannesburg party, is enthralled by a leading activist – a white woman like herself, but far more assured – and offers herself up to the cause. The plan is to protest by walking into a "location", a square-mile of segregated housing surrounded by barbed wire, into which whites were not permitted to enter. What should be an overtly political story turns into a tender one, about Joyce daring to cross lines – to dance with a black man at the party; to step forward in protest.

Gordimer's are stories of the human soul – regardless of the colour of the skin it comes wrapped in. "Some Monday for Sure" is narrated by a young man who lives with his sister and her husband. The husband's job is to sit on the end of the truck carrying dynamite to the mines, waving a flag to warn following drivers to keep their distance. The reader is primed for an explosion that never quite happens. The husband falls in with a plot to hijack the dynamite for the purposes of civil disobedience. While this heist on a country road would normally be the fulcrum of the plot, Gordimer turns her gaze upon the wife instead; a woman disempowered not only through being black and poor, but also by the men in her family.

Time and again, Gordimer returns to a fault line in South Africa: the awkward relationship between black and white, which may have been clearly delineated in law, but was far messier between people.

In "The Moment Before the Gun Went Off", a farmer and leader of the regional branch of the Afrikaner Party is out hunting when his gun goes off and a stray bullet kills one of his favourite black workers. It is a story of prejudice, but not in the usual sense. Here, it is the farmer who fears that the shooting will be construed as deliberate and used as a political argument against whites. In truth – or at least, in Gordimer's fiction – the farmer weeps for the man he has accidentally killed.

A collection spanning five decades, Life Times is a powerful reminder of the agonies of South Africa. Gordimer's writing is a humane intervention between two factions of what seemed, at times, a hopelessly divided society. Her characters are messengers who could cross boundaries in the imagination that would have been forbidden in reality. Not every story in Life Times is perfect, but the collection remains thrilling and daring.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada