This was the Old Chief’s Country by Doris Lessing
The first volume of Doris Lessing's 'Collected African Stories', and a classic work from the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
‘It can be said of all white-dominated Africa that it was – and still is – the Old Chief’s Country. So all the stories I write of a certain kind I think of as belonging under that heading; tales about white people, sometimes about black people, living in a landscape that not so very long ago was settled by black tribes, living in complex societies that the white people are only just beginning to study, let alone understand.’ Doris Lessing, from the Preface
In this superb volume of African stories, Lessing paints a magnificent portrait of the country in which she grew up. The cruelties of the white man towards the native, ‘the amorphous black mass, like tadpoles, faceless, who existed merely to serve’, the English settlers, ill at ease, the gamblers and moneymakers searching for diamonds and gold, and the presence, ‘latent always in the blood’, of Africa itself, its majestic beauty and timeless landscape: Lessing draws them all together into a powerful, memorable vision.
‘One brings away a sense of the sheer impossibility of Africa, as a place fit only for habitation by the imagination of exiles and of children. All else seems lost, betrayed and spoiled, except the glare of the sun, the dust, the boulders. An impressive collection.’ Daily Telegraph
‘Doris Lessing’s sense of setting is so immediate, the touch and taste of her continent is so strong, that Africa seems to become the universe.’ Newsweek
Born: in Kermanshah, Iran, October 22, 1919
Died: November 17, 2013
Influences: Virginia Woolf, Idries Shah, Simone de Beauvoir, Olive Schreiner, Jean-Paul Sartre, Dostoyevsky, D.H. Lawrence, Mikhail Bulgakov, Stendhal, Olaf Stapledon, Christina Stead
Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Olive Schreiner and Nadine Gordimer), Lessing made herself into a self-educated intellectual.
In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she married Frank Wisdom, and later had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son.
During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. By 1949, Lessing had moved to London with her young son. That year, she also published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, and began her career as a professional writer.
In June 1995 she received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University. Also in 1995, she visited South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren, and to promote her autobiography. It was her first visit since being forcibly removed in 1956 for her political views. Ironically, she is welcomed now as a writer acclaimed for the very topics for which she was banished 40 years ago.
In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005. In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
(Extracted from the pamphlet: A Reader's Guide to The Golden Notebook & Under My Skin, HarperPerennial, 1995. Full text available on www.dorislessing.org).
Publisher: Flamingo (20 Jan. 2003)
Paperback: 432 pages
Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm