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The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

The Grass is Singing (1950)

by Doris Lessing

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English (50)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  All (55)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
This short, intense and, I suspect, highly memorable book by Doris Lessing is a psychological portrait of a woman whose spirit is destroyed by her disastrous marriage and by her living conditions. It is also an exploration of exactly how white supremacy and colonialism in Africa was unjust, prejudicial and exploitative. These 200 pages pack a powerful punch and I can certainly understand how The Grass Is Singing earned it’s stature among twentieth-century literature.

I found this story to be original and thought provoking. The characters were sharply drawn, and, although there wasn’t one that I felt much sympathy for, their actions and attitudes painted a very clear picture of white African society. Barely a step away from whip toting slave owners, they felt full justification in their control over the black population. The story was also a vivid portrait of how powerless women were in this environment as well. Having no escape, nothing to plan or work toward, her dreams unfulfilled, the woman in this story goes slowly insane.

With this simple story, Doris Lessing exposes both the racial and gender inequality that British Colonialism supported and encouraged. The Grass is Singing is a disturbing story of doomed lives crumbling away under the hot African sun and is told with exceptional clarity and power. ( )
2 vote DeltaQueen50 | Oct 14, 2017 |
The Grass is Singing opens with the murder of Mary Turner, a white Southern Rhodesian's farmer's wife, by one of the farm's black workers. Whilst to the local police this is an open and shut case of simple "native" brutality, as we walk back through the years in Mary's life we discover that a long and complex road of disappointment and racial prejudice has ultimately laid the path to her murder.

I found this incredibly layered novel to be profoundly psychoanalytical and disturbing. In 200 short pages Lessing manages to convey the utter horror of a black/white segregated 1940s Southern Africa in a way that affected me much more than other books I've read with this setting. Mary's loathing of "the natives" runs much deeper than her husband's, manifesting itself in untempered disdain and a complete inability to consider the black workers on any human level. Her husband Dick tries to operate his farm workforce with a level of fairness, yet one doesn't have to peel back the layers of the onion too far to see that this "fairness" is based on the doctrine of keeping the coloured man down in his place under the total control of the the white man.

He was obeying the dictate of the first law of white South Africa, that is "Thou shalt not let your fellow whites sink lower than a certain point; because if you do, the nigger will see that he is as good as you are".

This is not only a novel about racial hatred, however. The Grass is Singing is an acutely observant look at the human psyche, of how life's twists and turns slowly but surely sour and disappoint a once vibrant and popular woman until she loses herself completely into that which she had always so defiantly tried to avoid becoming.

I've found this a very difficult book to review as there are so many facets to it, but what I think stands out most is it's starkly honest portrayal of how the white southern Africans consider their fellow black men to be entirely sub-human and requiring management in the same way as the beasts of the land.

4.5 stars - a darkly disturbing read in many ways, but a profound and important one that will leave me thinking about it for some time. ( )
2 vote AlisonY | Mar 6, 2017 |
Reading it shaped my view of being a woman in the world during the eighties, and of how the world had changed in certain aspects, though not necessarily enough.
  asa_linde | Sep 6, 2016 |
This is the story of a young white woman in postwar Rhodesia who grows up kind of always-already dispirited by her parents' broken marriage, finds a niche for herself and then loses it through a compulsion to repeat her trauma, marries a good but feckless farmer with an expansive but soft and easily wounded soul, and finds herself isolated and floundering as she tries to deal with their African labourers--very quickly, one labourer in particular, who's just trying (I think--if this book has a flaw it's that Moses remains a cipher till the very end, though I can't see that much good would have come of it if the white Rhodesian Lessing had tried to get inside his head really) to be a man and bear up under impossible circumstances. It's a story of inverted intersectionality, of what happens when someone oppressed for her gender is bound to someone oppressed for his poverty and then bound by him further to someone oppressed for his race (lest their be any doubt, by far the most acute form of oppression in their particular context) given the opportunity to depend on and resent and oppress one another--and the way it achieves the resonance of tragedy is that for each of them, oppression of one another is the irreducible byproduct of trying to follow their own entirely innocent hearts' joys and/or protect their tender spots. It's great historical forces coming to a head under a hot tin roof in a backwater settlement in a doomed colony, and it's absolutely riveting and powerful and true. ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Aug 4, 2016 |
An exciting and interesting plot, vividly described setting, and a depth of understanding about severe culture clash without a hint of know-it-all attitude - what more could I want?

I loved this book. Lessing has written a novel that reads like a page turner but has the depth of a slow, studied book. The story of Mary Turner is revealed after we read of her murder on the first page of the book. Her childhood, her marriage, her experience of isolated farm life, and her complete ignorance of the native people of Southern Rhodesia, all combine to lead to her death in a complex and compelling way.

This book manages to be a look at marriage, a look at a white woman's available paths in Rhodesia, and a study of the interactions of the various races and socio-economic levels in Rhodesia all at the same time. And it remains readable and memorable while doing it.

I particularly loved that Lessing doesn't pretend to know more about the native Africans in her book than she actually does. Their emotions and lives are not at all described from their own point of view, only through the lens of the white people around them and a bit through their actions. I appreciated that she didn't try to enlighten those reading her book on "what Africans are like" - something that drove me crazy and seemed so demeaning to African culture in a book I read recently, [Out of Africa].

I highly recommend this. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jun 6, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Doris Lessingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hökby, BertilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hökby, GunvorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nová, SoňaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is by the failures and misfits of a
civilization that one can best judge its
-- Author unknown
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico, co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
Then spoke the thunder

-- from The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
with grateful acknowledgements to the
author and to Messrs Faber & Faber
of Southern Rhodesia
for whom I feel the greatest
affection and admiration
First words
Mary Turner, wife of Richard Turner, a farmer at Ngesi, was found murdered on the front verandah of their homestead yesterday morning.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061673749, Paperback)

Set in Southern Rhodesia under white rule, Doris Lessing's first novel is at once a riveting chronicle of human disintegration, a beautifully understated social critique, and a brilliant depiction of the quiet horror of one woman's struggleagainst a ruthless fate.

Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm works its slow poison. Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of Moses, an enigmatic, virile black servant. Locked in anguish, Mary and Moses—master and slave—are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion, until their psychic tension explodes with devastating consequences.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:01 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Set in South Africa under white rule, [this book is] both a ... chronicle of human disintegration and an ... understated social critique. Mary Turner is a self-confident, independent young woman who becomes the depressed, frustrated wife of an ineffectual, unsuccessful farmer. Little by little the ennui of years on the farm work their slow poison, and Mary's despair progresses until the fateful arrival of an enigmatic and virile black servant, Moses.... Mary and Moses - master and slave - are trapped in a web of mounting attraction and repulsion. -Back cover.… (more)

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