Narrating a White Africa: Autobiography, Race and History
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This paper will focus on two childhood memoirs published after the end of minority regimes in South Africa and Zimbabwe, JM Coetzee's Boyhood (1998) and Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (2002)? Specifically, I am concerned here with setting out and examining some of the ways in which whiteness inflects both the production and the consumption of life narratives written by White Africans. Set in the period between colonial and postcolonial conditions, or, in South Africa pre- and post-apartheid, both of which renowned for their privileging of a White identity, these texts alternate between a nostalgic reminiscing that characterises the memoir as a genre and a coming to grips with brutal political contingencies. I propose that in the context of societies such as SA and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe lifewriting narratives fuse chronological time and political time in interesting ways, and in that sense frame historical moments as captured, or perhaps more adequately phrased, conceived by their White narrators. The story of a White childhood lived on the cusp of a shift in political conditions becomes then also a fascinating way of 'zooming in' onto specific moments and manifestations in the representation and consumption of the European presence in Africa. Finally, it illuminates how the 'making of personal memories' in contemporary South Africa and Zimbabwe both conflicts with and complements the making of a collective memory.
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