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Tompkins County Public Library
101 East Green Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
Created: August 24 , 2007
Last Modified: July 27, 2010


Let Us Go to Another Country...

An exhibit of maps related to The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

Presented by the Map and Geospatial Information Collection, Olin Library, Cornell University

Nadine Gordimer’s novel moves through three distinct worlds. As presented in the staccato stream of the characters’ consciousness these are sometimes destinations of hope, just as often, worlds rejected. All three worlds are strangely non-specific, each one stripped in varying degrees of the national characteristics we use to define places in the real world. Gordimer doesn’t want her geography freighted with our preconceptions, and so constructs a geographic backdrop against which her characters, at turns rootless and yearning for roots, can play out their story. In doing so she leaves us with a difficult challenge: what maps can we display to enhance our understanding of the novel without adding more specificity than the author intended?

We begin in South Africa—never named in the novel, but some offhand touches of description allow us to identify it. South Africa as nation is almost incidental. Its geography, although unique, is not defining; its bureaucracy could be any bureaucracy. The city, where Julie Summers and Abdu meet, could be any urban agglomeration in the developed world. Its streets could be any streets. We have enough to identify Johannesburg, although our initial identification is from an off-hand allusion to Soweto, Johannesburg’s most well-known neighborhood. The rest is purposefully generic: “The Suburbs,” or “The Northern Suburbs.”

We’ve chosen maps that help American readers, perhaps unfamiliar with South Africa, orient themselves. Post-apartheid South Africa is only glimpsed in the novel, but we have displayed maps that provide some background for the history and the broad social forces at work in the city and the country. This world, once a hopeful destination for Abdu, rejects him. At the same time Julie discards it –“rejects” is too strong a term. Both on different terms “go to another country.”

That other country, even more anonymous and unspecified than South Africa, is Abdu/Ibrahim’s homeland. Never named, the novel presents the country as little more than a cultural milieu and a physical geography. We see with compelling clarity the Islamic world and the Islamic family challenged by the twentieth century. We also experience the desert at the end of the village as a defining, transforming space. This space is one that Ibrahim has rejected, along with much of his culture, long before, in order to “go to another country,” but it is this space which seduces Julie until she embraces it completely.

Ibrahim’s homeland is not meant to be identified. Five different reviewers have confidently asserted five different countries, a testament to Gordimer’s skill at presenting an Islamic country that is at once generic and convincing. We’ve decided to pretend that the country is Morocco. The “tomb of Sidi Yusuf” around which the place grew, according to Ibrahim, brings to mind the real tomb in Marrakesh and the environment of the Maghreb, where pilgrimages are made to tombs of Sufi holy men. Marrakesh, quite a large city, couldn’t be Ibrahim’s village, so we postulate a place like Erfoud, east of Marrakesh and on the edge of the Sahara. We have chosen maps to illustrate the many kinds of cartography that can represent a place like that, without insisting too strongly on the place itself.

The third world is the world of Ibrahim’s aspiration. Australia, Canada, Sweden, places where many like him hope to immigrate. We’ve used Geographic Information System (GIS) software to produce thematic maps of Detroit and Chicago—the final(?) stops on Ibrahim’s itinerary of escape.

We hope you find the maps interesting and useful adjuncts to enjoying The Pickup. Perhaps they will help you understand the state of mind which compels many, either in imagination or in reality, to “go to another country.”


This exhibit has come to life only through the efforts of our dedicated Map and Geospatial Information Collection staff.

Susann Argetsinger, Map Assistant and Preservation Technician, has again shaped the exhibit through her empathetic reading of the novel. Susann has also provided expert help in preparing and mounting the maps. Helped by the skilled staff of the Conservation Laboratory, Susann organized and mounted the exhibit both here in Olin Library and concurrently at the Tompkins County Public Library.

Nij Tontisirin, Student Map Assistant, scanned and plotted all the maps and images for both implementations of the exhibit. Nij designed the dramatic version of the satellite radar image of the Western Sahara. She also reworked the rather generic thematic maps of Chicago and Detroit into the interesting and engaging maps you see here. We’re very grateful for her skill and patience.

Special thanks to Howard Brentlinger, Map Assistant and CRIO Bibliographic Assistant, and Sally Grubb, Exhibit Coordinator, Tompkins Country Public Library, for the community networking that led to the concurrent exhibit at TCPL.

About the Maps and Images

The original maps are not used in this display. All maps except for the atlases in the book cradles have been scanned and reprinted on a large format plotter or otherwise reproduced. Many of the maps have been reduced in size or otherwise altered.

Africa Traveller’s Map. London: Macmillan Publishers, 1990.
We’ve included this map to provide an overview of the geography of the continent and its political divisions.

“Les flux migratoires dans le monde” in Atlas de l'Islam dans le monde : lieux, pratiques et ideologie. Dupont, Anne-Laure, editor; cartography by Guillaume Balavoine. Paris : Editions Autrement, 2005.  
Julie: Canada, Australia— America too? Every possibility was being worked at through his contacts, The only country where she might have any of use was England but he already had against him a record of illegal entry there.—p.144   The map, from another specialized atlas, gives a worldwide context for migration to and from Islamic countries.    

Meissas, Achille. Afrique, partie nord-ouest. Paris: L. Hachette, 1852.  
So that’s where he’s from: one of them knows all about that benighted country… He’s [Abdu/Ibrahim] telling them:--I can’t say that—‘my country’—because somebody else made a line and said this is it. So who’s country should I say, it’s mine.—p.15

This mid-nineteenth century map shows the spheres of influence in early colonial Africa. Compare this to the recent political map of Africa, Traveler’s Map of Africa, and you can see the arbitrariness of the boundaries of modern Africa as they were defined by colonial powers. Compare also the stages of colonialization and decolonialization shown in the Atlas du Maroc.