Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gerald Gordon

The Crooked Rain by Gerald Gordon (Digit Books, May 1957) Cover by Ed Blandford

Gerald Gordon was a South African author, born in Kimberley on 19 January 1909, the son of Solomon Gordon and his wife Frances (nee Fine). He matriculated from Kimberley Boys High School in 1925, having won the London College of Preceptors Prize for top place in the British Empire in Latin and Greek, the Kimberley Dux Medal and the De Beers and Diamond Scholarships which took him to the University of Cape Town. There he read classics, winning the top place in Latin and shared the Governor General's prize for the best BA student. After his first year, he switched to reading law, obtaining five medals and three distinctions. In 1930 he received his LL.B. degree and was admitted to the bar the following year. He published his first book on law in 1936.

Gordon joined the South African Infantry in 1940, serving in East Africa and Egypt in the Intelligence Section; later he returned to the Union as Information Officer with the rank of lieutenant; he was demobilized in 1945 with the rank of captain.

He returned to the bar in Cape Town and became a King's Counsel from 1949. With Leo Marquard and some of their former colleagues in the army's Information Service, he formed the Institute of Citizenship, serving on its council and, for 17 years, as its Honorary Life President.

He distinguished himself at the bar in a number of cases fighting restrictions on coloured persons and, in 1958, stood for the South African Liberal Party, although he was not elected. He was chairman of the Cape Bar Council for three terms from 1965 to 1972. He retired from active practice in 1974 but continued to write articles on politics and sociological topics for the South African press. He was also a director of Purnell & Sons (publishers), Chairman of Contrast, a South African literary journal, and National President of SA PEN. In 1996 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws hororis causa by the University of Cape Town.

Gordon travelled widely around Africa, including a 9,000-mile safari south of the Sahara in 1954-55, and his interested included climbing, swimming, the arts and music. In all he wrote only three novels, the first, Let the Day Perish (1952), translated into seven languages, including Hebrew, Rumanian and Russian.

He was married to literary critic Nancy Muriel Baines in 1960 and had two children. He died in 1998.

In a tribute written for Consultus (November 1998), Judge President Gerald Friedman wrote, "I knew Gerald for almost 50 years. I worked with him at the Bar and marvelled at the thoroughness with which he approached his briefs. He was undoubtedly one of the Cape Bar's great sons. His passing is a great loss to us all."


Let the Day Perish. London, Methuen & Co., 1952; as Dark Brother, New York, Pyramid Books, 1954.
The Crooked Rain. London, Macdonald & Co., 1954.
Four People. Cape Town, Purnell & Sons, 1964; London, Macdonald & Co., 1964.

South African Law of Insurance. Cape Town, Juta & Co., 1936; revised 2nd edition, assisted by W. S. Getz, 1969; revised 3rd edition as Gordon and Getz on the South African Law of Insurance, by W. S. Getz and D. M. Davis with Gerald Gordon, 1983; revised 4th edition, 1993.
Public Safety Bill is Dictatorship (pamphlet). Cape Town, Civil Rights League, 1953.
Law of Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance, with A. Suzman. Cape Town, Juta & Co., 1954; revised 2nd edition as Suzman and Gordon on the Law of Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance, with W. Odes, 1970; revised 3rd edition as Suzman, Gordon and Hodes on the Law of Compulsory Motor Vehicel Insurance in South Africa, with Lionel H. Hodes, Juta, 1982.

The Long Way Round by Anthony Delius; photographs by Gerald Gordon & John Torres. Cape Town, Timmins Publishers, 1956.
Dark Pilgrim by Frans Venter, translated from Afrikaans by Gerald & Walter Gordon. Kibdibm Collins, 1959.


  1. I'm so glad that I've finally found his biography facts... I guess it's the only site that contains this kind of information.
    I've read "Let the day perish" and I strongly recommend everyone to read it. It's a great novel, full of feelings, emotions and ideas that are left to the reader to think over.
    Gerald Gordon is a wonderful, fascinating, amazing and whatever writer. He made me think a lot about my inner world...

  2. merci, moi aussi je suis très content d'avoir enfin trouver une "biographie" de Gerald Gordon connu en 1995 à l'occasion de la première tournée d'Ismael Lô organisé par son fils Steve.

  3. Of course, nobody mentions that as capable as Gerald Gordon was, he was also an active, in his day, as a member of the South African Communist Party. I was commissioned by Purnell and Sons in the 1970s to write a book a book about the so-called "Coloured" community in South Africa and the terrible effects that apartheid played out on the lives of this group, then about two million strong. The book completed and presented to Purnells in Cape Town, it was vetoed by Gordon - one of its directors - on the basis that it might affect Purnell sales in South Africa. So much for Gordon's commitment to fair play. It took the Afrikaans company Human and Rousseau to eventually publish the book.

    Talk about hypocracy!

  4. I’d like to clarify a few facts:
    1) Gerald Gordon was never a member or supporter of the communist party.
    2) Mr Venter was not commissioned to write the book, but did present the idea to Purnell.
    3) The manuscript was considered and then passed to Advocate Gerald Gordon for a legal opinion.
    4) In the text, Al J Venter had written that Neville Alexander, the activist , was a communist.
    Since this was unfounded, (and Mr Alexander could have sued for defamation, ) Mr Venter’s book was rejected on legal grounds.



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