by Gabeba Baderoon
Northwestern University Press, 2021
Paper: 978-0-8101-4360-9
Library of Congress Classification PR9369.4.B33H57 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 821.92

Gabeba Baderoon’s The History of Intimacy is a tender, tangled account of the heady days in South Africa following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. This award-winning poetry collection portrays the innovative forms of music, kinship, and even self in “the new, intricate country / we understood was impossible.” Gazing at black-and-white photos from back home, a woman who has moved to the United States realizes, “Memory doesn’t come to me straight.” Conversations overheard in line at the DMV reveal the complex nature of identity. When asked to name the color of her skin, a girl confides, “It was the first time I admitted / I loved the skin of white boys.” The poems are also light-hearted. In “Ghost Technologies,” about romance in the early days of the internet, the speaker recalls “when we loved each other on dial-up.” The collection begins and ends with poems on writing, paying tribute to poets such as Keorapetse Kgositsile and Archie Markham who taught her that “a border / is a place of yielding or refusing to yield / for after refusal might lie a new country.”
Born on the coastal shores of Port Elizabeth, Baderoon is one of South Africa’s most acclaimed literary voices. In The History of Intimacy—originally published by Kwela Books—she crafts resonant poems about a writer’s beginnings, love across boundaries, and “how not to be alone.”

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