Get a Life

A Novel

Nadine Gordimer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Paul Bannerman, an ecologist in South Africa, believes he understands the trajectory of his life, with the usual markers of vocation and marriage. But when he's diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, after surgery, prescribed treatment that will leave him radioactive, for a period a danger to others, he begins to question, as Auden wrote, "what Authority gives / existence its surprise."

In the garden of his childhood home, where his businessman father, Adrian, and prominent civil rights lawyer mother, Lyndsay, take him in to protect his wife and child from radiation, he enters an unthinkable existence and another kind of illumination: the contradiction between the values of his work and those of his wife, Benni, an ad agency executive. His mother is transformed by the strange state of her son's existence to face her own past. Meanwhile, projects to build a nuclear reactor and drain vital wetlands preoccupy Paul as if he were at work. By the time he is cured, both families have been changed. On his return to his home and career, his parents go to Mexico to fulfill the archaeological vocation Adrian sacrificed to support his family. The consequence of this trip is the final surprise in this extraordinary exploration of passionate individual existences.


Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer. Copyright © 2005 by Nadine Gordimer Published in December 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

i / Child's Play

Only the street-sweeper swishing his broom to collect fallen leaves from the gutter.

The neighbours might have seen, but in the middle of a weekday morning everyone would be out at work or away for other daily-life reasons.

She was there, at the parents' driveway gate as he arrived, able to smile for him, and quickly sense the signal for them to laugh at, accept the strangely absurd situation


Praise for Get a Life

"[Natalie Gordimer]  is a writer of exceptional poise, writing tight, with ruffles and flourishes kept to a minimum . . . This novel begins superbly and ends wonderfully, and in between there are passages of high intelligence, not without Gordimer's signature asperity."—Ward Just, The Washington Post Book World
"A lacerating novel, one in which conflicted professional and domestic lives are played for all their contradictory possibility."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Nadine Gordimer

  • Nadine Gordimer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, is the author of thirteen novels, nine volumes of stories, and three nonfiction collections. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Nadine Gordimer Copyright Maureen Isaacson


Available Formats and Book Details

Get a Life

A Novel

Nadine Gordimer