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This review is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

AN AESTHETIC UNDERSTANDING Denis Hirson, The House Next Door to Africa (Carcanet) £9.95

Denis Hirson's first novel, The House Next Door to Africa, rises from the vast collection of contemporary literature in exile with a compelling freshness and immediacy. Hirson conveys the horror of the turmoil in Johannesburg in the 1960s and the tragedy of Russian Jews in the Second World War without falling prey to sensationalism or jaded trivialization. He avoids these traps by recounting a series of memories, family stories, and historical events through the eyes of an unassuming adolescent. The narrator does not dwell on the particular memories or on their significance, instead, he sets them lightly before the reader, leaving him to discern the relationships between them and to draw his own conclusions.
 
The reader slips into the novel's circular structure with the introductory section:


When an echo rolls out on an errand it can't stop. On reaching its destination it can't stop. And it has great difficulty pausing in the middle. There seems no end to the work of an echo. It must always be returning, bending and condensing what came before.


The memories in the narrative also rise and fade, echoing and altering themselves and each other. The narrative itself unfolds with an apparent linearity, opening with exile of the narrator's family from Tsarist Russia and their journey to South Africa, followed by the narrator's growth into early adulthood. Only with the concluding section does the circularity become apparent. The family is exiled from Johannesburg ...


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