Page 62 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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JEWISH WRITERS IN SOUTH AFRICA
By E
dgar
B
e r n s t e in
A
GAINST a thousand years of literature in Europe or three
hundred years in America, the literature of South Africa
is very young and new. T he roots trail back little more than a
century, while most of the fruit is the product of the past forty
years. In that time, however, a considerable body of distinctively
South African writing has accumulated, and some of the writers
have attained world fame. Jews have made a substantial contri-
bution to the young literature of this young land. Not many of
them have dealt with Jewish themes; for the most part the
general South African scene has stimulated their pens.
Among the earliest Jewish contributions was Nathaniel Isaac’s
Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, with a Sketch of
Natal.
Published in London in 1836, it remains to this day a
fascinating source book on early Natal. In a clear, graphic and
rounded prose Isaacs wrote, while still in his teens, an account
of the exploration into the then wild hinterland of Natal, which
he undertook with his friend, Lieutenant King. He stayed in
Natal six years, and the lush, untamed country must have made
a deep impression on him, for his book shows many a sensitive
response to the pull of the environment. S. A. Rochlin’s mono-
graph,
Nathaniel Isaacs and Natal
(published by the Jewish
Historical Society of England in 1936), provides an interesting
study of this intrepid figure. One of the very first white men to
penetrate deeply into Natal, Isaac’s bravery won him the admira-
tion of the Zulu king Chaka; and it was on the basis of a treaty
concluded between these two men that European (white) settle-
ment began in what is now the Garden Province of the Union
of South Africa.
In the half-century that followed the publication of Nathaniel
Isaac’s book there is little record of Jewish literary work in
South Africa, aside from the growing periodical press, in which
a number of Jews played an important pioneering part. At
the turn of the century, the issue involved in the Anglo-Boer
War of 1899-1902 evoked several contributions from Jewish
pens; but these were of a political or documentary character and
fall outside the scope of this essay. Three years before the war
a little-known attempt at local fiction was published by a
Jewish writer, Searelle’s (pen-name of I. Israels)
Tales of the
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