Apartheid and Armchair Nostalgia in America: Lisa Fugard’s "Skinner’s Drift" and Postapartheid Homecoming Novels in the Market

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Erica Lombard


The period between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s saw the emergence of a highly conventional subgenre of South African literature in the international literary market: the novel of a white expatriate’s return to their childhood home to be at the bedside of a dying parent. Nostalgia’s operation is evident not only in the literary features of these books, but also in their presentation and reception in the market. This article adopts a book-historical approach to examine this writing, much of which was originally published not in South Africa, but in the United Kingdom and United States. Focusing on the exemplary case of Lisa Fugard’s debut novel, Skinner’s Drift (2005), it explores how and why this form of postapartheid nostalgia was commodified, circulated, and consumed outside South Africa, in regions and among audiences without direct experience of the country or its history. The fate of Skinner’s Drift in the US in the mid-2000s, in particular, reveals much about the transnational currency and circulation of postcolonial white nostalgia as a commodity in the international anglophone market. In effect, these books offered a combination of images and narratives from the imperialist nostalgia repertoire and the postapartheid mediascape that had specific resonance and value among US audiences in the early twenty first century. Finally, the article considers the mixed reception of Fugard’s novel in South Africa, assessing the degree to which the tastes and expectations of the Anglo-American market have also been internalized within South Africa and South African cultural production.

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