Literary Birthday – 7 March – Dan Jacobson

Dan Jacobson was born 7 March 1929 and died 12 June 2014.


  1. The pit of the future is quite as deep as the pit of the past. Through it, too, all things fall endlessly.
  2. How to make sense of it all?
  3. I always seem to have been preoccupied or even obsessed by a sense of the disjuncture between our intentions and our achievements. Or between the assertions we make about ourselves and the circumstances that give rise to them.
  4. The question of betrayal is more complicated than you suggest. I did feel guilty about leaving the country and its political struggles and even its cultural paucities. And about leaving my parents too. But I couldn’t help it. I had to go.
  5. As for the writer — there’s one great difference between him and them. They have something outside themselves to work at; the writer can only grapple with the words and images in his own head. Yet he, too, must treat these as if their existence is independent of him, or as if he can make them independent. He has to try to be objective about what’s most subjective within him. To turn it into an object, indeed.
  6. There does come a blessed stage in writing a piece of fiction when the options that are open to the writer and to the characters in the story —when those options suddenly narrow down, or even disappear. Then you know it’s heading towards its right and natural conclusion (and this is true even if you deliberately leave the ending ‘inconclusive’).
  7. I do believe that in reading a book or poem we re-enact or mime in our own manner what the writer went through in bringing it into existence. We don’t know how it’s going to pan out; nor did the writer when he began it.

Dan Jacobson was a South African novelist, short story writer, critic, and essayist. His early novels focused on themes of the troubled land of his birth, South Africa, and of his eastern European Jewish heritage. In later years he wrote about historical and biblical subjects. Among the awards and prizes he received were the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 1959 (A Long Way from London and Other Stories); Somerset Maugham Award 1964 (Time of Arrival and Other Essays); The Jewish Chronicle Award 1977 (The Confessions of Josef Baisz); the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography 1986 (Time and Time Again). His 2005 novel All for Love was long listed for the Man Booker Prize.

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 by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 6th March 2020