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Van Heerden, Etienne 1954-

VAN HEERDEN, Etienne 1954-

PERSONAL: Born December 3, 1954, in Johannesburg, South Africa; son of Gert Jacobus Olivier (a merino stud breeder and farmer) and Doreen Catherine (a math teacher; maiden name, Myburgh) van Heerden; married; wife's name Kaia (a physician); children: Imke, Menán. Education: University of Stellenbosch, B.A., 1978, B.A. (cum laude), 1981, LL. B., 1982; University of Witwatersrand, M.A. (cum laude), 1987; attended International Writers' Program, University of Iowa, 1990. Politics: "Democrat (a rare breed in Africa)." Religion: "Doubt and God." Hobbies and other interests: Travel, journalism.

ADDRESSES: Home—Stellenbosch, South Africa. Office—University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa. Agent—Carole Blake, Blake Friedmann Literary, Film, and TV Agency, 37-41 Gower St., London WC 1E 6HH, England.

CAREER: Writer, educator, and attorney. During early career, worked variously as a dog handler, deputy sheriff, lecturer for a legal practice at Peninsula Technikon, and as a copywriter and director of client services for an advertising agency; worked as an attorney, including at the Supreme Court of South Africa, 1984; University of Zululand, Natal, South Africa, lecturer in Afrikaans literature, 1985–87; Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, former associate professor; University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, Hofmeyr Professor and head of Afrikaans and Netherlandic Studies in the School of Languages and Literature. Has served as a guest lecturer at universities in the United States and Europe. Television program host; founder of the Internet site LitNet.

MEMBER: Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde.

AWARDS, HONORS: Perskor Prize, Perskor Publishers, for Matoli; Eugene Marias Prize, South African Academy of Science and Arts, for My Kubaan; W.A. Hofmeyr Prize, Tafelberg Publishers, CNA Literary Award, Central News Agency Limited, ATKV Prize, and Hertzog Prize for Literature, all for Toorberg; CNA Literary Award, Central News Agency Limited, and ATKV Prize, both for Liegfabriek; honorary fellow in writing, University of Iowa; Rapport Prize for Fiction, for Casspirs en campari's: 'n historiese entertainment; J&B and Financial Mail Rare Achievers Award.


Matoli (novel; for children), Perskor (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1978.

Obiter dictum (poems), Perskor (Johannesburg, South Africa), 1981.

My Kubaan (short stories; title means "My Cuban"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1983.

Om te awol (novel; title means "To Go AWOL"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1984.

Toorberg (novel; title means "Mountain of Enchantment"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1986, translated by Malcolm Hacksley as Ancestral Voices, Viking, 1992.

Die laaste kreef (poems), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1987.

Liegfabriek (short stories; title means "The Factory of Lies"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1988.

Casspirs en campari's: 'n historiese entertainment (novel), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1991, translated by Catherine Knox as Casspirs and Camparis, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Mad Dog and Other Stories (includes selections from My Kubaan and Liegfabriek), translated by Catherine Knox, David Philip Publishers (Cape Town, South Africa), 1992.

Die stoetmeester (novel; title means "The Master of the Procession"), Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1993.

Kikoejoe, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1996, translated by Catherine Knox as Kikuyu, Kwela Books, 1998.

Postmodernisme en prosa: vertelstrategiee in vyf verhale van Abraham H. de Vries (literary criticism), Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1997.

Stoetmeester, translated by Malcolm Hacksley as Leap Year: A Novel, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Lied van die Boeings: 'n kaberet, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1998.

Die rooi roman: interaktiewe roman (novel), Human & Rousseau (Cape Town, South Africa), 1999.

Die mooiste liefde is verby, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 1999.

Die swye van Mario Salviati: 'n roman, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 2000, translated by Catherine Knox as The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, ReganBooks (New York, NY), 2002.

Die stilte ná die boek: kitsessays, Tafelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), 2004.

Work represented in anthologies, including A Land Apart, edited by Andre Brink and J.M. Coetzee, Faber and Faber (London, England), 1986; Ons geduld heeft zijn grenzen, Meulenhoff (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1987; and Time Out of Time: Contemporary Southern African Writing, Penguin (New York, NY), 1990. Syndicated columnist. Van Heerden's works have been translated into Dutch, Hebrew, and French. Toorberg has been published in thirteen languages.

SIDELIGHTS: Toorberg is the first of South African novelist, poet, and short story writer Etienne van Heerden's novels to be translated into English. Published as Ancestral Voices, the multigenerational story focuses on the Moolmans, a clan that has lived and farmed on an extensive homestead called Toorberg in the eastern Cape of South Africa for more than a century. The novel begins with the death of the last male Moolman heir, Noah (Trickle) de Pisani. The narrative then shifts forward and backward in time between the investigations of the magistrate inquiring into Noah's death and a throng of ghosts—five generations of Moolman ancestors—each of whom tells his or her individual story and explains the forces that have held the clan together and doomed it to decay. Van Heerden prefaces his tale with an extensive family tree that traces both the ancestry of the Moolmans and that of their "half-breed" cousins, the blue-eyed Riets, whom the Moolmans call Skaamfamilie (family of shame) because they are both the descendants of an English missionary and, as van Heerden once told CA, "they are descendants of slaves and the indigenous San ('Bushmen') hunters and Khoi ('Hottentot') tribes. They are regarded by the Moolman clan as the family of shame, therefore, because their skins are browner than those of the Afrikaner family of the farm." The theme of the novel, noted Phoebe-Lou Adams in the Atlantic, "is the death of a Boer Dynasty and, by implication, of white racial dominance in South Africa." Adams pointed out that, after the death of Noah, the Moolmans will fade; the Skaamfamilie, however, will endure.

Ancestral Voices was widely praised by critics. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, for example, called the novel "spellbinding" and hailed van Heerden as "an important voice in South African fiction." In a New York Times Book Review assessment, Lynn Freed concluded that the novel "provides a useful text for a study of the heritage and disposition of the Afrikaner. First published in Afrikaans in the dark days of apartheid (1986),… it seems to brood on history: what went before, what things have come to now." And Barend J. Toerien, writing in World Literature Today, declared that "as a picture of the disintegration of the white farming community in South Africa, [this] solidly structured novel makes a strong impression."

In his novel Kikoejoe, later translated into English as Kikuyu, van Heerden tells the story of a rural guest farm and the unusual and harsh events that take place as told by the narrator, a boy named Fabian. The story takes place in 1960 and features a diverse cast of characters, from Fabian's lesbian aunt, Geertruida, who travels masquerading as a man, to a doctor who is treating one of his patients with LSD. There is also some sort of ape-man who roams the countryside at night. Writing in World Literature Today, Sheila Roberts commented that the book is much more than "another outrageous, surreal postmodern novel." Roberts added, "The language is poetic and haunting … and a mood of deep sadness and nostalgia infuses all the strangeness."

The Long Silence of Mario Salviati tells the tale of small town called Yearsonend. A failed sculptor named Jonty Jack oversees a statue that resides in his front yard and that he has named the Staggering Merman. No one is sure whether or not Jack is the statue's creator, but numerous art museums see it as representative of post-Apartheid South Africa and want to buy it. Jack, however, refuses to sell it to Ingi, a big-city arts administrator whom Jack finds attractive but also repellent. Ingi herself soon develops other interests, including an investigation of her family's past that includes ghosts. Eventually, Ingi meets the Mario Salviati of the title, a deaf, dumb, and blind man who had helped Jack's father build a channel over the mountain to bring water to the town. Writing in the Library Journal, Rebecca Stuhr noted that the author "weaves an intricate morality tale about the past and future of South Africa." In a Booklist review, Kristine Huntley called the effort a "rich, vibrant novel that muses on the place of art and legend in the modern world." "The bloom may be off the rose with regard to magic realism as a genre," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor, "but Van Heerden proves that there's plenty of life in the form."

Also the author of literary criticism, van Heerden offers analyses of the stories of Abraham H. de Vries in Postmodernisme en prosa: vertelstrategiee in vyf verhale van Abraham H. de Vries. "He pays special attention to debates conducted in South Africa on the relationship between World and Word," noted Martinus A. Bakker in a review for World Literature Today. Bakker went on to note that the book "demonstrates that in De Vries's stories there frequently appears a shadowy, picaresque figure whose presence seems to challenge Barthes's claim that 'the author is dead.'"



Atlantic, August, 1992, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Ancestral Voices, pp. 100-101.

Booklist, August, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Ancestral Voices, p. 1996; February 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, p. 105.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, p. 1729.

Library Journal, January, 2003, Rebecca Stuhr, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, p. 160.

New York Times Book Review, August 16, 1992, Lynn Freed, review of Ancestral Voices, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly, May 18, 1992, review of Ancestral Voices, p. 56; December 23, 2002, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, p. 45.

Washington Post Book World, May 11, 2003, Anderson Tepper, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati, p. 13.

World Literature Today, winter, 1989, Hein Willemse, review of Die laaste kreef, p. 156; summer, 1989, Helize van Vuuren, review of Liegfabriek, pp. 527-528; summer, 1992, Barend J. Toerien, review of Casspirs en campari's: 'n historiese entertainment, p. 572; summer, 1997, Sheila Roberts, review of Kikoejoe, p. 639; spring, 1998, Martinus A. Bakker, review of Postmodernisme en Prosa: vertelstrategiee in vyf verhale van Abraham H. de Vries, p. 447.


Etienne van Heerden Home Page, (July 29, 2003).

Globe and Mail Online, (July 29, 2003), review of The Long Silence of Mario Saslviati.

PopMatters, (July 29, 2003), Valeric MacEwan, review of The Long Silence of Mario Salviati.

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