Andre Philippus Brink
Andre Philippus Brink
A voice of conscience within South Africa's Afrikaner community, novelist Andre Brink (born 1935) earned both governmental censure and the enmity of many of his countrymen for his longstanding opposition to apartheid. In the years since his country's exclusionary racial policies have been abandoned, Brink's stature as an author has increased significantly. An educator and playwright as well, Brink in recent years has championed Afrikaans, his native tongue, a language derived from Dutch. "There's a certain virility, a certain earthy, youthful quality about Afrikaans because it is such a young language, and because, although derived from an old European language like Dutch, it has found completely new roots in Africa and become totally Africanized in the process. …," Brink told Contemporary Authors Online.
Son of Daniel (a magistrate) and Aletta (Wolmarans) Brink (a school teacher), he was born Andre Phillipus Brink on May 29, 1935, in Vrede, Orange Free State, South Africa. He grew up in a conservative Afrikaner family in a country where apartheid was the official policy. Of his youth, he told UNESCO Courier: "The opportunity never arose for me to question apartheid because I didn't have anything to compare it with." After graduating from Lydenburg High School, Brink attended Potchefstroom University in the Transvaal, earning his bachelor's degree in literature in 1955. He later earned a master's degree in English literature from Potchefstroom in 1958 and a master's in Afrikaans and Dutch literature in 1959. That same year he married Estelle Naude. The couple had a son and were later divorced.
Off to Paris
Brink left South Africa in 1959 and headed for Paris, where he studied at the Sorbonne for the next two years. It was during his stay in Paris that his eyes were opened to the gross injustice of apartheid. In 1993 he told UNESCO Courier: "I needed to see my country in perspective, and that only happened when I was living in Paris, between 1959 and 1961, at the time of the Sharpeville massacre. Sharpeville was the shock that forced me to see what was happening in my country, with the clarity that distance can provide."
For the first time in his life, Brink had an opportunity in Paris to meet and socialize with blacks on equal terms. The only blacks he'd known back home in South Africa had been domestic servants and field workers. Now he was surrounded by black students, many of whom knew more about literature than he did, even after seven years of study. "It was a cultural shock, a very pleasant shock, what's more, a discovery that opened up entirely new horizons for me," he told UNESCO Courier. "It was a voyage of discovery into unknown territory." Brink's earliest novels, including Eindelose wee, published in 1960, Lobola vir die lewe, 1962, and Die Ambassadeur, 1963, were all written in his native Afrikaans and skirted the touchy issue of apartheid.
After his return to South Africa from Paris in 1961, Brink was hired as a lecturer at an English-language university. The school had a far more liberal tradition than the Afrikaner college at which he had studied earlier, and he began to meet South African blacks from the academic and professional worlds. Through his conversations with them and his observations of what was happening in his country, he gradually deepened his understanding of the plight of blacks in South Africa. However, he continued to avoid confronting these issues in his writing, focusing instead on some of the literary and philosophical ideas he had picked up in Paris. Major influences on his early writings, which were existentialist in style and mood, were Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, particularly the latter. He had begun reading Camus before going to Paris in 1959. The French author died shortly after Brink arrived in Paris. "For me his death was a shock that gave an extraordinary significance to his work," Brink told UNESCO Courier.
Not surprisingly, Brink gravitated toward others of his countrymen who had been exposed to the world outside South Africa. He'd met none of them in Paris but got in touch with them after his return to talk of their experiences overseas. There were five or six other Afrikaner writers who, like Brink, were interested in novels and the theater and all of whom had lived in Europe for a time. This handful of writers represented something new in Afrikaner literature, which theretofore had focused on a relatively narrow range of topics, including the lives of poor whites living off the land, drought, and farming problems. The changes that Brink and his small circle of Afrikaner colleagues brought to Afrikaans literature was not welcomed at all. These forward-looking writers were condemned for writing in the European style, and their novels were condemned from the pulpits of hundreds of Afrikaner churches throughout South Africa. Even more ominously, South Africa's Directorate of Publications accused the writers of moral, religious, and sexual subversion. In some extreme instances, the writers' books were even burned.
Novel Is Critical of Religion
Brink took an even bolder step in writing Die Ambassadeur, later translated into English and published as The Ambassador: He criticized religion. This managed to alienate him to a degree from most Afrikaners, for whom religion is the cornerstone of morality. His personal rejection of religion further strained his relationship with his family, who had difficulty accepting his new political ideology. He later recalled for UNESCO Courier a number of fierce arguments with his father "before we realized that we had not common ground, politically speaking. So we took a calm rational decision not to talk about politics any more." In the fall of 1965, Brink married for the second time, wedding Salomi Louw, with whom he had a son, Gustav.
A major turning point in Brink's life and career came in 1968. Newly divorced and increasingly uncomfortable with the political climate in South Africa, he returned to Paris, considering seriously settling there for the rest of his life. However, the student riots in the French capital that year prompted Brink to reassess his obligations as a writer. Eventually he decided that he needed to return to South Africa "in order to accept full responsibility for whatever I wrote, believing that, in a closed society, the writer has a specific social and moral role to fill," he told Contemporary Authors Online. "This resulted in a more committed form of writing exploring the South African political situation and notably my revulsion of apartheid." Not long after his return to South Africa, Brink married potter Alta Miller. The couple later divorced.
Brink's 1973 novel Kennis van die aand, later translated into English and released as Looking on Darkness, was the author's first overtly political work. The government's reaction was not long in coming. Brink's novel was the first Afrikaans novel to be banned under South Africa's 1963 censorship legislation. The publicity surrounding the South African censorship created a strong international demand for Brink's work. The novel tells the story of the ill-fated love affair between Joseph Malan, a colored South African actor, and a white woman of British descent. In the end, Malan kills his white lover, after which he is beaten nearly to death by security police but later sentenced to death. The tale is recounted by Malan from his cell on death row. Although the novel brought down the wrath of official South Africa, literary critics were considerably more positive in their appraisal of Brink's work. Writing in the Saturday Review, Jane Larkin Crain said of the novel that "a passionately human vision rules here, informed by an imagination that is attuned at once to complex and important abstractions and to the rhythms and the texture of everyday experience." In the Times Literary Supplement, C.J. Driver wrote that "within its context, this is a brave and important novel and in any terms a fine one." Fellow South African Nadine Gordimer, however, suggested that the novel suffered from the "defiant exultation and relief" of Brink's first attack on the political system within the country.
Novels Written in Two Languages
Although he remains a passionate champion of Afrikaans, Brink has completed the first "final" draft of all his novels since the mid-1970s in English. He admits, however, that he feels far more comfortable and idiomatic in Afrikaans. He followed the success of Looking on Darkness with An Instant in the Wind in 1976. The novel, another tale of interracial romance, touches on many of the same South African themes as its predecessor, but some critics found Brink's handling of the love story more appropriate to the pages of popular romance fiction. Far more successful was Rumors of Rain, published in 1978. To many, this was— and remains—Brink's finest novel. In an interview with Contemporary Authors Online, Brink offered this synopsis: "The apartheid mind is demonstrated in the account given by a wealthy businessman of the one weekend in which his whole familiar world collapsed through the conviction of his best friend for terrorism, the revolt of his son, the loss of his mistress, and the sale of his family's farm. In spite of his efforts to rigorously separate all the elements of his life, he becomes the victim of his own paradoxes and faces an apocalypse."
Published in 1979, A Dry White Season was eventually made into a motion picture starring Kevin Kline and Marlon Brando. Like Rumors of Rain, its story line is deceptively simple. While being detained by the security police, a black man dies, prompting his white Afrikaner friend to launch a probe into what really happened. In launching this private investigation, Afrikaner Ben Du Toit, the novel's protagonist, finds himself pitted against the awesome power of the state. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Mel Watkins found the novel "demonstrates Andre Brink's continuing refinement of his fictional technique, without sacrificing any of the poignancy that his previous books have led us to expect."
A Chain of Voices, published in 1982, provides Brink's fictionalized account of a Cape Colony slave uprising in the early 19th century. This is among the novelist's most critically acclaimed works, but it was followed in 1984 with one of his more mediocre offerings, The Wall of the Plague. Brink was in excellent form once again in 1988's States of Emergency, a love story set against the backdrop of South Africa's State of Emergency of the 1980s. This was followed in 1991 by An Act of Terror and in 1993 by On the Contrary. Brink's more recent novels have included Imaginings of Sand in 1996, Devil's Valley in 1999, and The Rights of Desire in 2001.
Married since 1990 to Maresa de Beer, Brink occupies a chair in English literature at the University of Cape Town. He previously taught a course in Afrikaans literature at Rhodes University. Though he was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, he has yet to win that coveted award. He has been twice honored by France, being made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1982 and a commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992.
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale Group, 2001.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th ed. St. James Press, 2001.
Economist, June 18, 1988, p. 96.
Publishers Weekly, November 25, 1996, p. 50.
UNESCO Courier, September 1993, p. 4. □
"Andre Philippus Brink." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/andre-philippus-brink
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Brink, André (Philippus)
BRINK, André (Philippus)
Nationality: South African. Born: Vrede, Orange Free State, 29 May 1935. Education: Lydenburg High School; Potchefstroom University, Transvaal, B.A. 1955, M.A. in English 1958, M.A. in Afrikaans and Dutch 1959; the Sorbonne, Paris, 1959-61. Family: Married 1) Estelle Naudé in 1959 (divorced), one son; 2) Salomi Louw in 1965 (divorced), one son; 3) Alta Miller in 1970 (divorced), one son and one daughter; 4) Marésa de Beer in 1990. Career: Lecturer, 1963-73, senior lecturer, 1974-75, associate professor, 1976-79, and professor, 1980-90, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch Literature, Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Since 1991 professor of English, University of Cape Town. Editor, Sestiger magazine, Pretoria, 1963-65; Standpunte magazine, Cape Town, 1986-87. President, Afrikaans Writers Guild, 1978-80. Awards: Geerligs prize, 1964; CNA award, 1965, 1979, 1983; South African Academy award, for translation, 1970; Médicis étranger prize (France), 1980; Martin Luther King Memorial prize (UK), 1980. D. Litt.: Rhodes University, 1975; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1985. Chevalier, Legion of Honour (France), 1982; Commander, Order of Arts and Letters (France), 1992. Agent: Ruth Liepman, Maienburgweg 23, Zurich, Switzerland. Address: Department of English, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa.
Die gebondenes. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1959.
Die eindelose weë. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1960.
Lobola vir die lewe (Dowry for Life). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1962.
Die ambassadeur. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1963; as The Ambassador, Johannesburg, CNA, 1964; London, Faber, 1985; New York, Summit, 1986; as File on a Diplomat, London, Longman, 1967.
Orgie (Orgy). Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Miskien nooit: 'n Somerspel. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Kennis van die aand. Cape Town, Buren, 1973; as Looking on Darkness, London, W.H. Allen, 1974; New York, Morrow, 1975.
An Instant in the Wind. London, W.H. Allen, 1976; New York, Morrow, 1977.
Rumours of Rain. London, W.H. Allen, and New York, Morrow, 1978.
A Dry White Season. London, W.H. Allen, 1979; New York, Morrow, 1980.
A Chain of Voices. London, Faber, and New York, Morrow, 1982.
The Wall of the Plague. London, Faber, 1984; New York, Summit, 1985.
States of Emergency. London, Faber, 1988; New York, Summit, 1989.
An Act of Terror. London, Secker and Warburg, 1991.
The First Life of Adamastor. London, Secker and Warburg, and NewYork, Summit, 1993.
On the Contrary. London, Secker and Warburg, 1993; New York, Little Brown, 1994.
Imaginings of Sand. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1996.
Devil's Valley. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1999.
The Rights of Desire. London, Secker & Warburg, 2000.
Short Stories and Novellas
Die meul teen die hang. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1958.
Rooi, with others. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Oom Kootjie Emmer. Cape Town, Buren, 1973.
'n Emmertjie wyn: 'n versameling dopstories. Cape Town, Saayman& Weber, 1981.
Oom Kootjie Emmer en die nuwe bedeling: 'n stinkstorie. Johannesburg, Taurus, 1983.
Loopdoppies: Nog dopstories. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1984.
Die Eerste lewe van Adamastor. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1988.
Die band om ons harte (The Bond Around Our Hearts). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1959.
Caesar (in verse; produced Stellenbosch, Cape Province, 1965). CapeTown, Nasionale, 1961.
Die beskermengel en ander eenbedrywe (The Guardian Angel andOther One-Act Plays), with others. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1962.
Bagasie (Baggage; includes Die koffer, Die trommel, Die tas ; produced Pretoria, 1965). Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1965.
Elders mooiweer en warm (Elsewhere Fair and Warm; producedBloemfontein, 1969). Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Die verhoor (The Trial; produced Pretoria, 1975). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Die rebelle (The Rebels). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Kinkels innie kabel (Knots in the Cable), adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare. Cape Town, Buren, 1971.
Afrikaners is plesierig (Afrikaners Make Merry). Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1973.
Pavane (produced Pretoria, 1980). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Bobaas van die Boendoe, adapted from Synge's Playboy of the Western World (produced Bloemfontein, 1974). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Die Hamer van die hekse (The Hammer of the Witches). Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1976.
Toiings op die langpad (Toiings on the Long Road). Pretoria, VanSchaik, 1979.
Die bende (The Gang; for children). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1961.
Platsak (Broke; for children). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1962.
Orde en chaos: 'n Studie oor Germanicus en die tragedies van Shakespeare (Order and Chaos: A Study of Germanicus and the Tragedies of Shakespeare). Cape Town, Nasionale, 1962.
Pot-pourri: Sketse uit Parys (Pot-pourri: Sketches from Paris). CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1962.
Die verhaal van Julius Caesar (for children). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1963.
Sempre diritto: Italiaanse reisjoernaal (Sempre diritto: Italian TravelJournal). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1963.
Olé: Reisboek oor Spanje (Olé: A Travel Book on Spain). CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1965.
Aspekte van die nuwe prosa (Aspects of the New Fiction). Pretoria, Academica, 1967; revised edition, 1969, 1972, 1975.
Parys-Parys: Retoer (Paris-Paris: Return). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1969.
Midi: Op reis deur Suid-Frankryk (Midi: Travelling Through theSouth of France). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Fado: 'n reis deur Noord-Portugal (Fado: A Journey ThroughNorthern Portugal). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Die poësie van Breyten Breytenbach (The Poetry of BreytenBreytenbach). Pretoria, Academica, 1971.
Portret van die vrou as 'n meisie (Portrait of Woman as a YoungGirl). Cape Town, Buren, 1973.
Aspekte van die nuwe drama (Aspects of the New Drama). Pretoria, Academica, 1974.
Brandewyn in Suid-Afrika. Cape Town, Buren, 1974; as Brandy in South Africa, 1974.
Dessertwyn in Suid-Afrika. Cape Town, Buren, 1974; as Dessert Wine in South Africa, 1974.
Die Klap van die meul (A Stroke from the Mill). Cape Town, Buren, 1974.
Die Wyn van bowe (The Wine from Up There). Cape Town, Buren, 1974.
Ik ben er geweest: Gesprekken in Zuid-Afrika (I've Been There:Conversations in South Africa), with others. Kampen, Kok, 1974.
Voorlopige rapport: Beskouings oor die Afrikaanse literatuur van sewentig (Preliminary Report: Views on Afrikaans Literature in the 1970s). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1976; Tweede voorlopige rapport (Second Preliminary Report), 1980.
Jan Rabie se 21. Cape Town, Academica, 1977.
Why Literature?/Waarom literatur? Grahamstown, Rhodes University, 1980.
Heildronk uit Wynboer saamgestel deur AB ter viering van die blad se 50ste bestaansjaar. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1981.
Die fees van die malles. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1981.
Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege. London, Faber, 1983; asWriting in a State of Siege, New York, Summit, 1984.
Literatuur in die strydperk (Literature in the Arena). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1985.
Editor, Oggendlied: 'n bundel vir Uys Krige op sy verjaardag 4 Februarie 1977. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1977.
Editor, Klein avontuur, by Top Naeff. Pretoria, Academica, 1979.
Editor, with J.M. Coetzee, A Land Apart: A South African Reader. London, Faber, 1986; New York, Viking, 1987.
Translator, Die brug oor die rivier Kwaï, by Pierre Boulle. CapeTown, Tafelberg, 1962.
Translator, Reisigers na die Groot Land, by André Dhôtel. CapeTown, Tafelberg, 1962.
Translator, Die wonderhande, by Joseph Kessel. Cape Town, HAUM, 1962.
Translator, Nuno, die visserseun, by L.N. Lavolle. Cape Town, HAUM, 1962.
Translator, Verhale uit Limousin, by Léonce Bourliaguet. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1963.
Translator, Die slapende berg, by Léonce Bourliaguet. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1963.
Translator, Land van die Farao's, by Leonard Cottrell. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Die bos van Kokelunde, by Michel Rouzé. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Moderato Cantabile, by Marguerite Duras. Cape Town, HAUM, 1963.
Translator, Die goue kruis, by Paul-Jacques Bonzon. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Land van die Twee Riviere, by Leonard Cottrell. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1964.
Translator, Volke van Afrika, by C.M. Turnbull. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1964.
Translator, Alice se avonture in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1965.
Translator, Die mooiste verhale uit die Arabiese Nagte. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Die avonture van Don Quixote, retold by James Reeves. Cape Town, HAUM, 1966.
Translator, Ek was Cicero, by Elyesa Bazna. Johannesburg, AfrikaansePers, 1966.
Translator, Koning Babar, by Jean de Brunhoff. Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Die Swerfling, by Colette. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1966.
Translator, Die vindingryke ridder, Don Quijote de la Mancha, byCervantes. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Speuder Maigret, Maigret en sy dooie, Maigret en die Lang Derm, and Maigret en die Spook, by Simenon. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 4 vols., 1966-1969.
Translator, Die mooiste sprokies van Moeder Gans, by CharlesPerrault. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, Die eenspaaier, by Ester Wier. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, Die eendstert (Brighton Rock), by Graham Greene. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1967.
Translator, Mary Poppins in Kersieboomlaan, by P.L. Travers. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1967.
Translator, Die Leeu, die heks en die hangkas, by C.S. Lewis. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, with others, Die groot boek oor ons dieremaats. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, with others, Koning Arthur en sy ridders van die Ronde Tafel. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Die Kinders van Groenkop, by Lucy Boston. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Alice deur die spieël, by Lewis Carroll. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Die Botsende rotse, Die Bul in die doolhoof, Die Horing van ivoor, and Die Kop van de gorgoon, by Ian Serraillier. Cape Town, HAUM, 4 vols., 1968.
Translator, Bontnek, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. Cape Town, HAUM, 1968.
Translator, Die Draai van die skroef (The Turn of the Screw), byHenry James. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1968.
Translator, Die Gelukkige prins en ander sprokies, by Oscar Wilde. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator (into Afrikaans), Richard III, by Shakespeare. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die Gestewelde kat, by Charles Perrault. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die groot golf, by Pearl S. Buck. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die Nagtegaal, by H.C. Andersen. Cape Town, HAUM, 1969.
Translator, Die Terroriste, by Camus. Johannesburg, DramatieseArtistieke en Letterkundige Organisasie, 1970.
Translator, Eskoriaal, by Michel De Ghelderode. Johannesburg, Dramatiese Artistieke en Letterkundige Organisasie, 1971.
Translator, Ballerina, by Nada Ćurčija-Prodanović. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1972.
Translator, Die Seemeeu (The Seagull), by Chekhov. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1972.
Translator, Die Bobaas van die Boendoe (The Playboy of the WesternWorld), by Synge. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1973.
Translator, Jonathan Livingston Seemeeu, by Richard Bach. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1973.
Translator, Hedda Gabler, by Ibsen. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Translator, Die Wind in die wilgers, by Kenneth Grahame. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Translator, Die Tragedie van Romeo en Juliet, by Shakespeare. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1975.
Translator, Die Tierbrigade, and Nuwe avontuur van die Tierbrigade, by Claude Desailly. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 2 vols., 1978-1979.
Translator, Die Nagtegaal en die roos, by Oscar Wilde. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1980.
Translator, Rot op reis, by Kenneth Grahame. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1981.
Translator, Adam van die pad, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1981.
Translator, Klein Duimpie, by Charles Perrault. Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1983.
27 April: One Year Later/Een jaar later (editor). Pretoria, SouthAfrica, Queillerie, 1995.
Destabilising Shakespeare. Grahamstown, South Africa, ShakespeareSociety of Southern Africa, 1996.
The Novel: Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino. NewYork, New York University Press, 1998.
Reinventing a Continent: Writing and Politics in South Africa. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zoland Books, 1998.*
University of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein; National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown.
Donker Weerlig: Literêre opstelle oor die werk van André P. Brink edited by Jan Senekal, Cape Town, Jutalit, 1988; "The Lives of Adamastor" by Anthony J. Hassall, in International Literature in English edited by Pobert L. Ross, London and Chicago, St. James Press, 1991; Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten, Breytenbach, and J.M. Coetzee by Rosemary Jane Jolly, Athens, Ohio University Press, 1996.
André Brink comments:
(1996) My early work revealed the influence of existentialism (notably of Camus) and was largely a matter of technical exploration. Ever since a year-long stay in Paris in 1968 a deep awareness of the responsibility of the novelist towards his society has shaped my work: not in the sense of "using" the novel for propaganda purposes, which degrades literature, but as a profound evaluation of social and interpersonal relationships as they affect the individual: the individual doomed to solitude and to more or less futile attempts to break out of this spiritual "apartheid" by trying to touch others—which means that the sexual experience is of primary importance to my characters.
With the dismantling of apartheid there is a new freedom to broaden the scope of my writing and to explore the possibilities of an African magic realism.* * *
André Brink is an Afrikaner dissident who chose to remain inside the South African apartheid society which he regarded as morally insupportable. His powerful political and historical novels have been translated into 20 languages, while in South Africa he is regarded with a somewhat sceptical eye by writers and academics alike.
Brink is a prodigious, multi-talented literary figure. In addition to plays, travel writing, and critical work, he has written 16 novels and translated a great many works into Afrikaans. Formerly a professor of Afrikaans literature at Rhodes University, he now occupies a chair in English literature at the University of Cape Town. Despite three nominations for the Nobel Prize for literature, Brink is disliked by many Afrikaans writers and critics in South Africa, not so much (or not only) because of his outright moral opposition to apartheid, but for what is regarded as sentimentality and sensationalism in his writing. There is no doubt that Brink's writing is extremely uneven. His novels are almost always flawed in some respect, and they are often overwritten. Also, Brink has a singular penchant for placing gauche and inane statements in the mouths of his characters, while his rendition of sexual experience is often cliché-ridden and tasteless. Yet he has written some of the most powerful stories to emerge in recent South African writing, and he commands impressive narrative skills.
As an emerging Afrikaans novelist in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Brink almost singlehandedly modernised Afrikaans novel-writing. Arguably the most eclectic South African writer at the time, he knocked the conservative Afrikaans literary tradition out of complacency with themes and techniques drawn from writers like Camus, Beckett, Sartre, Nabokov, Henry Miller, Faulkner, Greene, and Durrell. In 1974, the Afrikaner establishment was hit by the sensational news that Brink's Kennis van die aand, later translated into English as Looking on Darkness, had been banned. The banning created a major division between the State and many of the country's Afrikaans writers, and introduced a new era of increasingly vocal dissidence from within the establishment. After a Supreme Court hearing and a further two appeals, the novel was finally unbanned in 1982, but given an age restriction which is impossible to enforce.
For Brink, expulsion from the laager was an important juncture. Capitalising on sudden international fame as South Africa's first Afrikaans writer to be banned under the country's comprehensive 1963 censorship legislation—usually reserved for girlie calendars, Communist publications, and morally and politically perverse writing in English—Brink translated Kennis van die aand into English and became, thenceforth, an international novelist writing in English. He has since produced nine weighty novels, roughly one every two years.
By his own admission Brink remains, in essence, an Afrikaner, but his recent novels are not "translated." Brink maintains that he produces the novels in both languages more or less simultaneously, starting out in Afrikaans, but completing the first "final" draft in English. However, Brink is far more idiomatic and comfortable in Afrikaans, and his English versions sometimes suffer from a certain rigidity of style.
Looking on Darkness is a compelling but uneven novel. As Nadine Gordimer has observed, it suffers from the "defiant exultation and relief" of Brink's first major cry of rebellion. The novel veers recklessly from profound historical reconstruction and metaphoric statement to the slushiest of sexual and emotional scenes. This book tells the story of Joseph Malan, a coloured man and a descendant of slaves who makes good as an actor after winning a grant to study at RADA in London, and who then comes home to launch a full-on cultural assault against apartheid. A passionate love affair with a white (British) woman develops, and Joseph is caught between the impossibility of love across the colour line, and the sinister manoeuvres of the Security Police against his theatre group. In a contrived and somewhat unconvincing denouement, Joseph murders his lover, whereupon the Security Police half kill him in unspeakably brutal fashion. He is sentenced to death, and the narrative is written from the death cell on sheets of paper which (we are asked to believe) Joseph daily flushes down the toilet, so determined is he to escape the scrutiny of his gaolers.
Looking on Darkness sets the pattern for Brink's later novels in several important respects. There is an uncompromising engagement with issues of race and politics, an insistence on exposing the sinister, vicious, and hypocritical elements at the heart of the apartheid system, an ability to rediscover the present in terms of a rich and violent frontier history, and a persistent fictional exploration of sexual love as a framework for a higher form of enquiry into the state of modern existence, subject to the peculiar restraints of apartheid society.
In An Instant in the Wind, Brink's first "English" novel following Looking on Darkness, a runaway slave escorts an eighteenth-century Cape lady back to civilisation after her husband and their party come to grief in an expedition into the interior. The story is a rich investigation into pertinent South African themes, and has a strong romantic appeal, but the love story between the erstwhile slave and the fallen lady constantly verges on a kind of sentiment more appropriate to popular romance fiction.
However, Brink's best talents come to the fore powerfully in his next—arguably his best—novel, Rumours of Rain. Like its successor,A Dry White Season, the novel examines the moral options of a contemporary Afrikaner who is rooted to a potent nationalistic history, but who is vulnerable to the short-comings and hypocrisy of Afrikaner nationalism. Rumours of Rain achieves remarkable depth and complexity, and contains some of Brink's best characterisation.
The narrative inventiveness of Rumours of Rain and A Dry White Season is taken further in Brink's other tour de force, A Chain of Voices. This is a major novel which fictionalises a slave revolt in the early 19th century in the Cape. Brink gives each of his several characters a narrating voice, and out of the overlapping narratives a story of great force and interlocking complexity emerges. Brink's exceptional ability to re-animate the past—especially that of slavery in South Africa—enables him to establish the recurrent motifs of a frontier history in which South Africa remains confined.
True to form, Brink followed up this success with a work which is thoroughly mediocre. The Wall of the Plague is a particularly clumsy attempt at metaphorically associating the Black Death plague of medieval Europe with modern apartheid. The novel degenerates into a lengthy implied debate between three South African expatriates about the merits of exile as opposed to active engagement in the country itself, expressed in terms of black versus white sexual potency (there is a coloured girl in the middle) with a great deal of melodrama and sheer inanity thrown in.
However, Brink's 1988 novel, States of Emergency, shows outstanding novelistic deftness. The "story" consists of "notes" towards a love story set in violence-torn South Africa during the State of Emergency in the 1980s. The story skillfully interweaves public and political emergency with the private emergency of conducting an illicit love affair in the midst of ceaseless violence and upheaval. Despite its brilliance, the novel uneasily mixes metafictional self-consciousness with a series of unexamined illusions—principally the illusion that the novel one reads is not a novel at all but incomplete notes for a novel. In a project where every fictional device is brought to the surface for debate, it seems a massive sleight-of-hand—and contrary to the deconstructive spirit in which the writing takes place—not to examine this, the biggest fictional strategy of all. States of Emergency is further complicated by the juxtaposition of Brink's actual divorce and his liaison with a young woman, and the metafictional "fabrication" of a similar story in the book: a love affair between a professor and a young colleague. As part of a divorce settlement, the novel was embargoed for distribution in South Africa after its publication.
In Imaginings of Sand, Brink tackled a particularly challenging problem for a male writer: portraying the world from a female point of view, in this case through two sisters, Anna and Kristien. Like their creator, they are Afrikaners, and underlying the narrative is a sense that in the "new," post-Apartheid South Africa, the only prevailing ethnic antipathy is toward the descendants of the old Dutch settlers. Devil's Valley offers an intriguing spin on the idea of those settlers by depicting a "lost colony" of sorts, an anti-Shangri-La, of unreconstructed Boers living in a mountain redoubt. They are like the Japanese soldier who struggled on in the jungles of the Philippines for three decades after World War II, only to be "captured" in 1975. Brink's Boers, seen through the eyes of reporter Flip Lochner, show little sign of surrendering to the outside world; yet elements of that world are nonetheless encroaching on their alternate version of reality.
—Leon de Kock
"Brink, André (Philippus)." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brink-andre-philippus
"Brink, André (Philippus)." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brink-andre-philippus