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Nudelman’s debut novel wins her the Olive Schreiner Prize

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SUZANNE BELLING

PHOTOGRAPH BY SUZANNE BELLING

She shares the prize, which will be awarded to her next month at the University of the Witwatersrand, with writer Imran Garda.

“The marketing officer of UKZN Press submitted my book for adjudication. I was completely incredulous and speechless,” Nudelman told SA Jewish Report. “Olive Schreiner was an amazing woman who was ahead of her time.”

Nudelman was inspired to write the book while a “jogging friend” related the tale of a boss who employed a young white Girl Friday from KwaZulu-Natal. “One day she didn’t turn up for work. After two days, and no reply to telephone calls, her boss went looking for her and found her dead in her bed with her 18-month-old baby. He adopted the baby.

“I found the story so riveting that I invented the story of Rose, the baby, who in the book is 30 years old. I based my character on her, a woman whose background could not be traced, who had no sense of her roots and has a quest to find them. She had no idea who her father was. It is a fictional story but the seeds are fact.”

The character’s journey of discovery led her through the suburbs of Johannesburg and the towns and villages of the Drakensberg. She went to the village of Oberon to discover the origins of her parents.

Nudelman combines history, politics and the search for identity in her story. Its political influence is illustrated by the phenomenon of having a white identity in South Africa today and that, while “legalised racism” has ended, the politics of race continue to impact on black-white relations.

The writer has delved deep into the land and people of this country and the adjudicators said her debut work “distinguishes itself as a novel of great value in the transformation of thinking about indigenous knowledge systems in South Africa”.

She says that “Inheriting the Earth” is “essentially about a white woman struggling to find a sense of belonging and rootedness in South Africa and comes to a watershed regarding colonialism and apartheid”.

Nudelman attended school at HA Jack and Waverley Girls’ High, where she won both the English and biology prize. She went on to study at Wits, where she did a BSc, majoring in genetics and biochemistry.

She then switched her focus and took a higher diploma in librarianship and later a BA (Hons) in English Literature.

She worked at the health clinic in Alexandra township, creating a library from a storeroom. “I was the gatekeeper as I wanted to do something to influence change. It was at the time when South Africa was popular with the world and we had visitors of the calibre of Princess Anne.”

Eventually she went back to her love of English, lectured part-time at Wits and taught at King David Victory Park.

She attained a Masters degree in creative writing in 2009. At times Nudelman was a fulltime mother, pursuing her career after her first two children and then again after the younger two were old enough.

She has already completed a second novel and it seems as if writing books will become her fulltime occupation.

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