Tragic to Magic?: Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit

  • Diana Adesola Mafe


Bitter Fruit, the title of Achmat Dangor’s celebrated 2001 novel, is an appropriate metaphor for the tragic mulatto. It combines the notion of ripe possibility with sour prospects, which is the tragic inheritance of this literary character. As a postapartheid novel, published in the “mulatto millennium,” Bitter Fruit functions differently from the preceding tragic mulatto texts. The novel is set on the cusp of the new millennium, at the end of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, and at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings.1 The bitter legacy of the old South Africa and the ripe promise of the new nation thus coexist in a fragile stasis, which is captured by the public and political TRC and its mediation of private and personal stories. The story of one coloured family, the Alis, is also the story of the nation and its efforts to reconcile opposing forces and histories. Dangor weaves multiple tragedies and traumas into this rich novel but he places 19-year-old Mikey Ali, the product of a coloured woman’s rape by a white security policeman, at the center of the narrative. Mikey is the figurative “bitter fruit” and the character that upsets the carefully preserved yet artificial balance.2


Female Character Comic Book Mixed Race Walk Away Bitter Fruit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Zimitri Erasmus, “Introduction: Re-Imagining Coloured Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” in Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town, ed. Zimitri Erasmus (Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2001), 7.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Sarah Nuttall, “City Forms and Writing the ‘Now’ in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 30 (December 2004), 733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 5.
    Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit (New York: Black Cat, 2001), 12.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Achmat Dangor, “An Interview with Achmat Dangor,” Bold Type, March 1999,
  5. 7.
    Werner Sollors, Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (New York: Oxford UP, 1997), 239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 12.
    Loren Kruger, “Black Atlantics, White Indians, and Jews: Locations, Locutions, and Syncretic Identities in the Fiction of Achmat Dangor and Others,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 100, no. 1 (2001), 115–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 14.
    Ronit Frenkel, “Performing Race, Reconsidering History: Achmat Dangor’s Recent Fiction,” Research in African Literatures 39 (Winter 2008), 162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 18.
    Claude McKay, “The Mulatto,” in An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black—White Contacts in the Old World and the New, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York UP, 2004), 559. Contemporary writers such as Barack Obama, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Adewale Maja-Pearce, mixed race men with white mothers and black fathers, clearly venerate their fathers in their critical works. When compared to the hatred that mulatto sons foster for white fathers in tragic mulatto fiction, these mulatto sons of black fathers send an entirely different message in their nonfiction. It is presumably not a coincidence that Obama, Appiah, and Maja-Pearce, all roughly the same age and all sons of African fathers, wrote autobiographical books respectively titled Dreams from My Father (1995), In My Father’s House (1993), and In My Father’s Country (1987). These critical nonfiction works fall outside the scope of this book but they project a sense of loyalty to or solidarity with black fathers, who are largely absent in mulatto fiction.Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly, introduction to Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970– 1995, eds. Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998), 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 33.
    Coreen Brown, The Creative Vision of Bessie Head (London: Associated UPs, 2003), 52.Google Scholar
  11. 43.
    Ana Miller, “The Past in the Present: Personal and Collective Trauma in Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit,” Studies in the Novel 40. nos. 1 & 2 (2008). 158.Google Scholar
  12. 47.
    Brenna Munro, “Queer Family Romance: Writing the ‘New’ South Africa in the 1990s,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15, no. 3 (2009), 426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 53.
    Eve Allegra Raimon, The “Tragic Mulatta” Revisited: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Antislavery Fiction (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2004), 109.Google Scholar
  14. 56.
    Lydia Maria Child, “The Quadroons,” in An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black—White Contacts in the Old World and the New, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York UP, 2004), 239.Google Scholar
  15. 80.
    Langston Hughes, “Mulatto: A Tragedy of the Deep South,” in An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black—White Contacts in the Old World and the New, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York UP, 2004), 550.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Diana Adesola Mafe 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Adesola Mafe

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations