By Es'kia Mphahlele
Mphahlele, novelist, autobiographer, literary and social critic, poet—now in his eighties—is the grand old man of South African letters. Down Second Avenue, first published in 1957, tells the story of Mphahlele's life until his departure into exile in 1955. (He returned to South Africa in 1977.) The book is striking for its content: having been a herd boy in the country, Mphahlele moved to impoverished black townships in the Johannesburg area. The hardships of the poor and the despised, the complexities of the author's personal and family life, and his achievement of a good education and a job as a journalist, are all described in lively but careful detail. What animates the book and makes it profoundly memorable is the powerful but tightly controlled emotion, which underpins its seemingly straightforward narrative style.
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