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The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

Book cover for The Conservationist
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In South Africa under apartheid, Mehring is a rich white businessman who is not satisfied with his life. His ex-wife has gone to America, his liberal son (who is probably gay) criticizes his conservative/capitalist ways and his lovers and colleagues do not seem actually interested in him. Out of a whim he buys a farm outside the city, afterwards trying to explain this purchase to himself as the search for a higher meaning in life. But it is clear that he knows next to nothing to farming, and that black workers run it - Mehring is simply an outsider, an intruder on the daily life of "his" farm. One day the black foreman, Jacobus, finds an unidentified dead body on the farm. Since the dead man is black, the police find no urgency to look into the case and simply bury the body on the spot where it was found. The idea of an unknown black man buried on his land begins to "haunt" Mehring. This has been interpreted as the influence of apartheid on the class of privileged white people who profit from it while ignoring its victims. A flood brings the body back to the surface; although the farm workers do not know the stranger, they now give him a proper burial as if he were a family member. There are hints that Mehring's own burial will be less emotional than this burial of a stranger. This can be interpreted to symbolize the white man's position in South Africa: although he "owns" the land on a piece of paper, the black natives have the actual claim on the land.

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