Settling in England:
Reflections of a South African Jew
NEITHER for me nor for my parents was England “Home.” My father and mother both came to South Africa directly from Eastern Europe; I was born in Johannesburg and grew up in Kimberley. However, twenty years ago Kimberley was still a very “English” city in many ways: it had its statues of Queen Victoria in public places, its overdecorated double-story houses behind thick hedges, its maiden ladies of eccentric dress and imperious accent, even its retired military gentlemen with sunken, sallow faces and yellow-stained mustaches. The last of these I used to see particularly in the Kimberley Public Library, where I spent much of my time as a boy: even then I thought of the library itself as an “English” kind of building, as indeed it was; it was more like a club than any public library I have seen since, with its smoking room, leather armchairs, verandahs, chess tables, and magazines laid out freely and unbound on the tables. The magazines were almost all English, needless to say, though Life and Time made their appearance later. But the Tatler, the Sketch, the Illustrated London News, Punch were there long before; and it was these I used to look at when I was not busy with the bound volumes of the Boys Own Paper or other books, all English, from the juvenile section. I should add that actually the library was housed in what had once been the residence of one of those German Jewish diamond magnates who had made their fortunes in the early days of Kimberley, and whose companies had long since been gathered by Cecil Rhodes into the De Beers Company. Kimberley was then very much a company town, and the company could still be thought of as belonging to Rhodes, whose bronze figure, on a bronze horse, one had to pass on the way to the city center; and whose ideas of empire still lingered perceptibly in the town.
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