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Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other StoriesBook #14: Nadine Gordimer, "Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black" and Other Stories
Country: South Africa (author)

Since it’s hard to summarize a short-story collection, here are my thoughts on the individual stories in this book:
  • ”Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black”: A white professor living in South Africa searches for hypothetical black relatives who might be descended from his great-grandfather. It’s an interesting take on racial consciousness in modern society.
  • ”Tape Measure”: Essentially, this story is a day in the life of a tape worm. It must be a metaphor – something about the nature of social parasites – but I’ll admit to being dense. It was a cute conceit, but ultimately the story did nothing for me.
  • ”Dreaming of the Dead”: In a dream sequence, the narrator has dinner in a Chinese restaurant with Edward Said, Anthony Sampson, and Susan Sontag. I think I’d have gotten much more out of this story if I had grown up knowing who all the characters were; as it is, most of the references went over my head.
  • ”A Frivolous Woman”: This story centers around Grete, an old woman who lives in the world of nightclubs and parties despite surviving personal tragedies during World War II. This was one of the most emotionally affecting stories in the collection.
  • ”Gregor”: The narrator notices a small roach trapped in the glass panel of her typewriter; she makes the obvious Kafka comparison. A funny little story that I didn’t quite see the point of.
  • ”Safety Procedures”: A man sits next to a strange woman on a plane and wonders about her. Meanwhile, the plane runs into a storm and has to make an emergency landing. I liked the twist at the end of this story.
  • ”Mother Tongue”: A man and a woman meet and fall in love in Germany, the woman’s country. When they marry, they move to the man’s country of South Africa. I liked this story, especially how it turns romantic expectations upside-down.
  • ”Allesverloren”: A woman whose husband has recently died searches for the one person who can understand her grief – the husband’s former male lover. I could relate to the depiction of grief in this story.
  • ”History”: The resident parrot at an old French restaurant becomes a symbol of the mutability of life when the restaurant closes. This was not one of my favorites; there’s just not much to it.
  • ”A Beneficiary”: A young woman, looking through her dead mother’s things, discovers evidence that her father might not be her father. The emotional climax to this story is very understated, which I liked.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The First Sense”: A Ph.D. and his wife immigrate to South Africa from Hungary. The woman soon fits into her new life and becomes successful, while the man is unable to assimilate to the unfamiliar culture. This is a sad story, and I thought the ending lacked subtlety.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The Second Sense”: A woman’s marriage is strained by her husband’s demanding career as a concert cellist. I loved the descriptions of music in this story, but once again I think the ending was delivered a bit too forcefully.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The Third Sense”: A woman suspects that her husband is having an affair, but financial troubles prevent her from speaking up. This was my least favorite of the “alternative endings,” but oddly enough it has the best ending.
Overall, while I respect Gordimer’s writing style, few of the stories really grabbed me. It might be worth getting this book from the library, though.