Author: Nadine Gordimer
First published: 1958
Locale: Johannesburg, South Africa
Plot: Social satire
Time: The early 1950's
Tobias (Toby) Hood, a publisher's agent. He has come from London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work for a time in his family's publishing firm, Aden Parrot. Brown-haired and stocky, the Oxford-educated, twenty-six-year-old Toby is the first-person narrator of the novel. At odds with the liberal politics of his family, Toby comes to South Africa determined to see and do what interests him and not to be guided by social conscience. Through Hamish and Marion Alexander, he meets a group of privileged and luxury-loving white South Africans, including Cecil Rowe. He has an affair with Cecil, though he fails to make a serious commitment to her. Through Anna Louw, with whom he has a very brief affair, he meets Indians and Africans, including the black Steven Sitole, who becomes his closest friend. Toby finds himself slipping between two untouching worlds, the segregated white world and the world of the black townships. The death of Steven makes him face the changes that have shaped him since arriving in South Africa, where he now plans to stay indefinitely.
Steven Sitole (see-TOH-lay), formerly a journalist, then an insurance agent. Tall, thin, and elegantly dressed, Steven attracts many admirers. He has little stability, always moving from room to room and always pitting his wits against authority. A man of varied experience, he spent a year in England after the war and also earned a bachelor's degree from a correspondence college. Toby is drawn to him for his vitality and for the strength of his desire for a private life. Anna Louw and Sam Mofokenzazi regret his lack of political concerns. Steven introduces Toby to the black townships and to his drinking companions. Steven dies tragically in a car accident while fleeing from a police raid on a club.
Cecil Rowe, a former model who now rides show horses. The twenty-eight-year-old Cecil is slim and vividly attractive. Born in South Africa of English parents, she is the divorced and inattentive mother of a three-year-old son. Uncommitted and lacking direction, she often seems lost and fearful. She has an affair with Toby but is unaware of his friendship with Steven. Eventually, she plans to marry Guy Patterson.
Anna Louw (loh), a lawyer who works for the Legal Aid Bureau, taking up African causes. A short, dark-haired, young Afrikaans woman, she is divorced from her Indian husband. Bravely refusing to live according to the segregations imposed by white South African society, she is abandoned by her conventional family. She takes Toby to a party, where he meets Steven Sitole. Later, Toby sleeps with Anna out of friendship rather than desire. Finally, Anna is arrested for political action. Toby visits her while she is out on bail.
Sam Mofokenzazi (moh-foh-kehn-ZAH-zee), a journalist for an African newspaper. Sam, who is very short, is described by Toby as having a “Black Sambo” face. A writer, jazz pianist, and composer, Sam is politically aware and also a responsible, stable family man. Toby is a frequent guest at the house of Sam and his wife, Ella, often sleeping there. He becomes even closer to Sam after the death of Steven.
Hamish Alexander, one of the most powerful gold-mining millionaires in South Africa. Bald, red-faced, and advanced in years, he relishes the privileges of his position. He and his wife, Marion, live at High House, an estate with a swimming pool, a tennis court, paddocks, and exquisite gardens. He also breeds horses, and Cecil Rowe rides show horses for him.
Marion Alexander, Hamish Alexander's wife. Although Toby's mother and his great-uncle Faunce once knew her, they would now disapprove of her self-indulgent and exclusive way of life. Disguising her advancing age with elaborate dress and makeup, she is a fashionable and expert hostess to the large groups of people regularly gathered at High House.
John Hamilton, a regular guest at High House. He helps Toby find his first flat in Johannesburg. An avid hunter, he takes Toby on a bird hunt into the bush.
Guy Patterson, a senior official in Hamish Alexander's mining group. A large man, thickened and lined with age, he is still handsome. A war hero who was educated at Cambridge, he joins the hunting party organized by John Hamilton. He shares Cecil's racial prejudice and will be able to offer her a life of material satisfactions.