“A Good Story, If I Can Remember It”

Tracking down the memories of anti-apartheid writer and editor Sylvester Stein for Lapham’s Quarterly.

“Even before dementia’s onset, Stein felt mocked by the fallibility of memory, which exacerbated the creative toll that exile already takes. Decades earlier, he brooded over the fate of his friend Gerard Sekoto, a painter who continued to churn out portraits of his beloved South Africa while exiled in France but, as Stein lamented in Who Killed Mr Drum?, was ‘painting memories only, fading year by year, being copies of copies.’ Stein, visiting him in Paris in the early 1960s, ‘saw the danger: his emotions were becoming memories of memories.’

Yet discrepancies between 2012’s I Danced with Mrs. Gandhi and 1999’s Who Killed Mr. Drum? suggest peril of another kind. Memory might become derivative with the distance of decades and oceans—or it might grow more vividly motley as the ties to its source loosened.”