JIMFISH, or ten years on the wrong side of history

: Hope (C.)

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181pp., paperback, London, 2015


A novel set in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. A man is pulled up out of the sea, claiming to have been kidnapped as a baby. The Sergeant, whose job it is to classify people by colour, struggles to fit him into a racial category, and names him Jimfish.

"Beginning in 1984, Jimfish sets out on a decade-long globe-trekking odyssey of disillusion that takes in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Chernobyl, Siberia, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the last days of Ceaucescu, Mobutu’s Zaire, the Liberian civil war and Somalia. Though funnier and more anarchic than Orwell, Hope is similarly concerned with the grotesqueries of totalitarian systems and the Kafkaesque contortions of late 20th-century geopolitics. Juxtaposing sardonic swipes at the hypocrisies of the powerful with moments of brutally realistic horror, Hope seems to suggest that our contemporary world’s nightmares are as absurd as they are appalling ... One might imagine there could be no quarter left for hope in such an acerbic view of recent history. Not so. Having returned to South Africa, and watching as Mandela takes the oath of office in 1994, Jimfish senses he has finally arrived on the right side of history. How quickly, though, we feel certain of that moment’s passing." Patrick Flanery, The Spectator

Christopher Hope was born in Johannesburg in 1944. His novels include Cape Drives (Thomas Pringle Award), A Separate Development (David Higham Memorial Prize), Kruger's Alp (Whitbread Prize for Fiction), Serenity House (shortlisted for the 1992 Booker Prize), My Mother's Lovers and Shooting Angels. His memoir, White Boy Running, won the 1989 CNA Award.