Sunday, 16 March 2008


Telling Tales, edited by Nadine Gordimer, was first published in 2005, so this isn't a new release. It is, however, an extraordinary contemporary classic, so I wanted to write about it, not least of all because of the story behind its publication.

Like some of the world's most prominent musicians had done before them, twenty-one writers - amongst them five Nobel Prize winners - decided they wanted to give of their abilities to benefit the approximately 40 million people in the world infected with HIV/AIDS. Each writer contributed a story they felt represented the best of their lifetime's work to this anthology and, as two-thirds of those living with the virus are in Africa, committed to donating all profits from the book's worldwide publication to the South African Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
As Gordimer puts it in the introduction, "rarely have world writers of such variety and distinction appeared on a contents list in the same anthology". And, indeed, this book is a veritable firmament of literary stars, from Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Susan Sontag and Gabriel Garcia Marques, to our own Es'kia Mphahlele, Njabulo S. Ndebele and, of course, Gordimer herself.
Their stories explore the universal themes of love, tragedy, drama, comedy, fantasy, satire and war, and through them we learn not only about others, but about ourselves. They also capture the zeitgeist of the times in which they were written in the way that perhaps even the authors themselves were not aware of.
Arthur Miller's Bulldog, for instance, paints a picture of twentieth century alienation that is startling in just how pedestrian it actually is, while Paul Theroux's Warm Dogs is a chilling - and cautionary - science fiction tale of life in the time of disease. And then there are those uniquely and deeply human stories from Africa, Gordimer's The Ultimate Safari, Mphahlele's Down the Quiet Street, and Njabulo's Death of a Son, the latter a mother's story of having to buy back the body of her child, confiscated after being killed in police crossfire.
Every one of these telling tales goes right to the heart of what it means to be human and, by being published in this way, also gives of that humanity to those suffering with the deadliest disease the world has ever known.
To find out more about this book, or to order a copy, click here:
21 Extraordinary Tales

To find out more about the Treatment Action Campaign, click through to
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