ARCHIE CRAIL is a black South African, an active member of the African National Congress, who has been exiled in Canada since 1980, a journalist, and the author of The Bonus Deal (Coteau, 136 pages, $12.95 paper), a riveting collection of 13 short stories that illuminate the experience of being Black in a country where only white matters.
Crail's stories are about systematic humiliation, about the casual brutality of block-headed masters, about demeaning laws and customs, about greed and selfishness, about the fearful paradox of a world in which a 10-year-old white boy can have a 50-year-old Black man whipped. On the one hand, they are an almost unbearable catalogue of inhumanity; on the other, they represent fragile but determined visions of hope.
Crail tells his stories simply. His characters eat, make love, work, gather to talk the common stuff of human life. So far, so good; they are obviously people like ourselves. But where the similarities between their lives and ours end - and it is Crail's particular strength that he makes his readers live these realities -is when they do not have enough to eat; are beaten for working too slowly; are killed for demanding answers to questions they are supposed to have no right to ask.
But the human spirit can flower under the basest repression, and Crail's people are human spirits. He shows the small triumphs of their subtle subversions, the moral temper of their courage and indomitability. They are rocks in their endurance; they are plants in a barren desert, moving towards a moment of ripeness, of flowering. Crail has lived what he writes, and one day, without doubt, he will live what he hopes.