Elleke Boehmer brings to her stories two qualities that all too often are mutually exclusive: the lucidity of her intelligence and the passion of her engagement.

—André Brink

The delicate intersection between the personal and the political has seldom been so skilfully explored; readable, tangible and haunting.

—Naomi Wolf

About

Photograph: Ana Brígida
Photograph: Ana Brígida

Elleke Boehmer is the author of the novels Screens against the Sky (short-listed David Hyam Prize, 1990), Bloodlines (shortlisted SANLAM prize), Nile Baby (2008) and The Shouting in the Dark (2015), as well as the short-story collection Sharmilla and Other Portraits (2010). Her fiction probes the delicate interface between our private and public selves in haunting and unforgettable ways.

She is also Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford, and a founding figure in the field of postcolonial literature. Her edition of Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was a 2004 summer bestseller, and her acclaimed biography of Nelson Mandela (2008) has been translated into Arabic, Malaysian, Thai, Kurdish, Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. She has published several other books including Stories of Women (2005), the anthology Empire Writing (1998), and Indian Arrivals: Networks of British Empire (2015).

 

Visit her University of Oxford English Faculty page »

 

Fiction

The Shouting in the Dark

The Shouting in the Dark

Op de verandaPublished by Sandstone Press (UK), Cossee (Netherlands), Jacana (South Africa), 2015

Late at night Ella watches her elderly father on the verandah, raging at the African sky. Caught between her mother’s mysterious grief and her father’s shattering wartime experiences, between the Holland of their past and apartheid South Africa, Ella fights hard to make it through her childhood in one piece. Her one enchantment is her forbidden love for the teenage gardener, Phineas. Years later, seeking political refuge in the Netherlands, Ella discovers her father never registered her birth. Now she must confront her father’s ghosts, and create a new future for herself.

 

The story, as disturbing as it is enthralling, of a girl’s struggle to emerge from under the dead weight of her father’s oppression while at the same time searching for a secure footing in the moral chaos of South Africa of the apartheid era. 

—J. M. Coetzee

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A secret duel to the death between a father and a daughter.  Distilled with an intimate sense of history, and very moving,The Shouting in the Dark is a powerful novel of memory, family politics and awakening.

—Ben Okri

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Boehmer’s The Shouting in the Dark … mirrors and mines the affective charge of a South African cultural and public life now avowedly post-TRC and shaped by new orders of private and public feeling, force and anger.

—Sarah Nuttall, Books Live

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The Shouting in the Dark is a text that seems to be written through the mists of memory. Boehmer’s language is feathery – barely touching the surface of her stories, pregnant with things left unsaid.

—Zoe Norridge, Wasafiri 85 (Spring 2016)

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… a book for all young activists – about learning to shout in the dark.

The New Statesman

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Sharmilla and Other Portraits

Sharmilla and Other Portraits

Published by Jacana, 2010

Police question a Cape Town female escort about the whereabouts of her client, the mysterious and impassioned Mr C. An elderly writer reflects on her experiences of the struggle and the complicated allegiances it has brought her. A father works together with his daughter to bring, as he thinks, Bach to Africa.

Sharmilla and Other Portraits offers a dynamic series of insights into a South Africa in edgy transition. Its vivid and varied narratives follow a range of displaced children, mothers, and domestic workers, a stadium manager, an AIDS patient and an office secretary, as they look in on the new and changing situation. In Sharmilla and Other Portraits Boehmer distils a compelling cycle of radiant snapshots detailing lived lives and their interwoven and secret undercurrents.

 

Elleke Boehmer brings to her stories two qualities that all too often are mutually exclusive: the lucidity of her intelligence and the passion of her engagement.

—André Brink

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Perceptive, new stories.

—Caryl Phillips

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The accurate simplicity is astonishing, especially because it is present in all her portraits.

—Tshepo Tshabalala, Star Tonight

Nile Baby

Nile Baby

Published by Ayebia, 2008

Nile Baby tells the story of two quirky young friends who discover a 90-year-old fetus in the laboratory storeroom of their school. Alice and Arnie set out on two very different journeys to return the specimen to its rightful home, leading them to discover not only their absent fathers, but also other buried and surprising roots. Reunited at the end of their adventures, they find that the fetus-creature will finally insist on its own manner of leaving them. This imaginative and daring novel explores the boundaries between the living and the dead and between the other and ourselves.

 

[A] strange and often unsettling odyssey across England … the novel asks us to consider the complex nature of race and belonging in contemporary Britain.

—Patrick Flanery, Times Literary Supplement

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Boehmer’s eye for domestic detail and ear for the nuances of speech whisk the reader in and out of different ways of being . . . Arnie gradually realizes that life is shaped in unforeseen ways by history.

—Angela Smith, The Independent

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Elleke Boehmer’s fourth novel is a remarkable change of gear: after the complex weaving of South African historical narratives in Bloodlines she has given us a focused, mesmerizing, and an occasionally stomach-turning story of two twelve-year-olds. … [The novel] grasps the enigmatic depths of human, and  continental, relations.

—Derek Attridge

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[A] moving portrayal of friendship …

—Mariss Stevens, NELM News

Bloodlines

Bloodlines

Published by David Philip, 2000

Short-listed for the Sanlam Prize

This compelling historical novel about the birth of the new South Africa explores the moving friendship between two women thrown together by an act of terror, and asks searching questions about the power of testimony and reconciliation, and the price we pay for the pain of the past.

 

[A]n engrossing and intriguingly told chapter in anti-imperial history.

—J. M. Coetzee

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[A] postcolonial fantasia … an imaginative exploration of the possibilities of connectedness. … The skilful tracing of bloodlines through several generations makes of a desperate act of violence a token of regeneration.

—Michiel Heyns, Sunday Independent

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[A] journey into the possible … an extremely good read.

—Cape Argus

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Bloodlines is an engaging and compelling book binding a potent theme and memorable characters into a brisk narrative … the writing shows a controlled resonance, the sign of a talent that must not be ignored.

—Times Literary Supplement

An Immaculate Figure

An Immaculate Figure

Published by Bloomsbury, 1993

Rosandra White is the proverbial perfect blonde. Exquisitely proportioned, desirable, her pale beauty exerts a powerful and dangerous allure. When she meets her childhood admirer Jem after years of risky liaisons, he finds that she has become a figure of unnerving intrigue.

 

[R]emarkable restraint and subtlety.

—West Africa

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[A] very clever book indeed. … It adopts the aesthetic appropriate to a culture in a politically hopeless age.

—Jenny Turner, The Guardian

Screens Against the Sky

Screens Against the Sky

Published by Bloomsbury and Penguin, 1990

Short-listed for the David Higham Prize

Set in South Africa in the late seventies, this novel describes the relationship between a white mother and her daughter, locked in a confined and self-absorbed world of domestic tension, until Annemarie starts work at a clinic for blacks.

 

A brilliant handling of an obsessional mother-daughter relationship … . Her descriptions are achingly acute.

—Financial Times

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An astonishing debut … swift, deft … expertly told … With a mordant wit, she shows how discrimination can become as natural as breathing, and as unselfconscious.

—Penny Perrick, Sunday Times

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Eloquently expressive.

—The Guardian

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A beautifully authentic insight into a society turned in on itself in the face of black deprivation.

—Wendy Woods

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Elegant, percipient writing.

—Zoe Heller, Observer

Non-fiction

Indian Arrivals, 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire

Indian Arrivals, 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire

Published by Oxford University Press, 2015

Winner: 2016 ESSE Book Award for Literatures in the English language

Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire explores the rich and complicated landscape of intercultural contact between Indians and Britons on British soil at the height of empire, as reflected in a range of literary writing, including poetry and life-writing. The book’s four decade-based case studies, leading from 1870 and the opening of the Suez Canal, to the first years of the Great War, investigate from several different textual and cultural angles the central place of India in the British metropolitan imagination at this relatively early stage for Indian migration.

In this luminous literary history of Indians’ encounter with English metropolitan culture, Elleke Boehmer asks us to dwell in the poetics of arrival itself. In its symbolic structures she traces not simply aesthetic forms or micro-dispositions of power but the very psychic life of the cross-border spaces that Indians in diaspora set into motion. It’s this dynamic terrain which, she argues, configured English modernity—that inimitable mesh whose recesses she illuminates with authority and affinity. All those who seek to understand the work of India and Indians in the making of imperial Britain will have to reckon with this book.

—Antoinette Burton

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Written with a rare combination of subtlety, style and psychological nuance, Indian Arrivals 1870–1915 is as remarkable a work of literary and cultural history as it is a meditation on what it is to ‘arrive’—in all senses of the word—in the strange familiarity of the imperial metropolis.

—Santanu Das

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[A] lucid study of the complicated—but not necessarily riven—landscape of intercultural contacts between Britons and Indians on British soil at the height of the Empire . . . a luminous literary history.

—Tabish Khair, Times Higher Education

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The Postcolonial Low Countries: Literature, Colonialism, and Multiculturalism

The Postcolonial Low Countries: Literature, Colonialism, and Multiculturalism

Published by Lexington Books, 2012
Edited with Sarah de Mul

The Postcolonial Low Countries is the first book to bring together comparative approaches to the emergent field of neerlandophone postcolonial studies. Each one of the essays puts under pressure the standard postcolonial concepts in their more well-known Anglo-American or francophone forms, as well as perceptions of the Low Countries, Belgium and the Netherlands, as lying outside the postcolonial domain.

The Indian Postcolonial: A Reader

The Indian Postcolonial: A Reader

Published by Routledge, 2010
Edited with Rosinka Chaudhuri

India has often been at the centre of debates about the postcolonial and transnational condition. Offering a challenging new direction for the field, this Reader confronts how theory in the Indian context is responding in vital terms to our understanding of that condition today.

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Terror and the Postcolonial: A Concise Companion

Terror and the Postcolonial: A Concise Companion

Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2010
Edited by Elleke Boehmer and Stephen Morton

Terror and the Postcolonial is a major comparative study of terrorism and its representations in postcolonial literature and culture.

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J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

Published by Continuum, 2009
Edited with Robert Eaglestone and Katy Iddiols

Nobel Laureate 2003 and the first author to win the Booker Prize twice, J. M. Coetzee is perhaps the world’s leading living novelist writing in English. This innovative book analyses the whole range of Coetzee’s work, from his most recent novels through his memoirs and critical writing, and places it in the historical, political and cultural context of South Africa.

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Published by Oxford University Press, 2008

As well as being a remarkable statesman and one of the world’s longest-detained political prisoners, Nelson Mandela has become an exemplary figure of non-racialism and democracy, a moral giant. Once a man with an unknown face, he became after his 1994 release one of the most internationally recognizable images of our time.

Set within a biographical frame, this Very Short Introduction explores the reasons why his story is so important to us in the world at large today, and what his achievements signify. It shows how our picture of Mandela is a great deal more complicated than the legend suggests: his quality of character is combined with his talents as a performer, his maverick ability to absorb transnational influences, his proximity to outstanding colleagues, his steely survival skills, and his postmodern ease with media image. It shows how many different interconnected stories, histories, values, and symbols combine in the famous name Nelson Mandela.

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Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation

Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation

Published by Manchester University Press, 2005

Elleke Boehmer’s work on the crucial intersections between independence, nationalism and gender has already proved canonical. ‘Stories of women’ combines her keynote essays on the mother figure and the postcolonial nation, with incisive new work on male autobiography, ‘daughter’ writers, the colonial body, the trauma of the post-colony, and the nation in a transnational context. Focusing on Africa as well as South Asia, and sexuality as well as gender, Boehmer offers fine close readings of writers ranging from Achebe, Okri and Mandela to Arundhati Roy and Yvonne Vera, shaping these into a critical engagement with theorists of the nation like Fredric Jameson and Partha Chatterjee.

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Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship

Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship

Published by Oxford University Press, 2004
Edited with an introduction and notes

A startling amalgam of Zulu war-cry and imperial and urban myth, of borrowed tips on health and hygiene, and object lessons in woodcraft, Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys (1908) is the original blueprint and ‘self-instructor’ of the Boy Scout Movement. An all-time bestseller in the English-speaking world, second only to the Bible, this primer of ‘yarns and pictures’ constitutes probably the most influential manual for youth ever published. Yet the book is at the same time a roughly composed hodge-podge of jingoist lore and tracker legend, padded with lengthy quotations from adventure fiction and B-P’s own autobiography, and seamed through with the multiple anxieties of its time: fears of degeneration, concerns about masculinity and self-restraint, invasion paranoia.

Elleke Boehmer’s edition of Scouting for Boys is the first to reprint the original text and illustrations, and her fine introduction investigates a book that has been cited as an authority by militarists and pacifists, capitalists and environmentalists alike.

Reviews

‘A gripping read’
The Oldie

‘A gem of a contemporary source’
Living History

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Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920: Resistance in Interaction

Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920: Resistance in Interaction

Published by Oxford University Press, 2002

Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 explores the political co-operations and textual connections which linked anti-colonial, nationalist, and modernist groups and individuals in the empire in the years 1890-1920. By developing the key motifs of lateral interaction and colonial interdiscursivity, Boehmer builds a picture of the imperial world as an intricate network of surprising contacts and margin-to-margin interrelationships, and of modernism as a far more constellated cultural phenomenon than previously understood. Individual case studies consider Irish support for the Boers in 1899-1902, the path-breaking radical partnership of the Englishwoman Sister Nivedita and the Bengali extremist Aurobindo Ghose, Sol Plaatje’s conflicted South African nationalism, and the cross-border, cosmopolitan involvements of W. B. Yeats, Rabindranath Tagore, and Leonard Woolf. Underlining Frantz Fanon’s perception that ‘a colonized people is not alone’, this richly detailed book sustains a ‘broad and challenging thesis’ and provides new possibilities for ‘reading resistance between the margins’ (Interventions).

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Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature, 1870-1918

Empire Writing: An Anthology of Colonial Literature, 1870-1918

Published by Oxford University Press, 1998
Edited with an introduction and notes

This is the first anthology to gather together British imperial writing alongside native and settler literature in English, interweaving short stories, poems, essays, travel writing, and memoirs from the phase of British expansionist imperialism known as high empire. A rich and starling diversity of responses to the colonial experience emerges: voices of imperial adventurers, administrators, memsahibs, propagandists and poets intermingle with West Indian and South African nationalists, Indian mystics, Creole balladeers, women activists and native interpreters. Drawn from India, Africa, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, and Britain, this wide-ranging selection reveals the vivid contrasts and subtle shifts in responses to colonial experience, and embraces some of empire’s key symbols and emblematic moments. Comprehensive notes and full biographies ensure that this is one of the most compelling and readable source books on the period.

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Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors

Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors

Published by Oxford University Press, 1995 (2nd edition 2005)

This title remains unparalleled for its historical breadth and the clarity of its theoretical discussion, and contributed to establishing and defining the field of postcolonial and global literary studies. Augmented by the author’s novelistic insights, the lively historical narrative explores key colonial and post-colonial developments, texts and cultural figures, from Joseph Conrad and R. L. Stevenson, through to Chinua Achebe and Manju Kapur. In a notoriously complex field, important theoretical terms and issues are illuminated by way of close readings of key texts, but without ever losing subtlety or historical insight.

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Altered State?: Writing and South Africa

Altered State?: Writing and South Africa

Published by Dangaroo, 1994
Edited with Laura Chrisman and Kenneth Parker

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Contact

Agent

Catherine Clarke

Felicity Bryan Literary Agency
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Oxford, OX2 6LX

catherine@felicitybryan.com

Tel: (01865) 513816
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