van Niekerk, Marlene 1954-
van NIEKERK, Marlene 1954-
Born November 10, 1954, in Caledon, South Africa. Education: University of Stellenbosch, M.A., 1978; attended University of Amsterdam and University of Witwatersrand; earned Ph.D.
Author, poet, and educator. University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa, professor. Lecturer at the universities of Amsterdam, Zululand, Unisa, and Witwatersrand.
Eugene Marais Prize and Ingrid Jonker Prize, both 1978, both for Sprokkelster; M-Net Book Prize, CNA Literary Prize, and Noma Award for Publishing in Afrika, all 1995, all for Triomf.
Triomf (novel), originally published, 1984, translation by Leon de Kock published by Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1994.
Also author of poetry collections Sprokkelster, 1977, and Groenstaar, 1983; of short story collection Die Vrou Wat Haar Verkyker Vrgeet Het, 1983; of the novel Agaat, 2004; and of plays.
South African writer Marlene van Niekerk was born on a farm in the Western Cape of South Africa. Her acclaimed novel Triomf appeared in its original Afrikaans version in 1984. Upon its release in the United States, New York Times reviewer Rob Nixon commented, "American readers have finally been provided with South Africa's only world-class tragicomic novel, the kind of book that stabs at your heart while it has you rolling on the floor."
In their home in the Afrikaner suburb Triomf, built on the devastated remains of the once-vibrant Johannesburg suburb of Sophiatown, the Benade family struggles to cope with the new realities of post-Apartheid South Africa. Pop is the nominal patriarch of the family; seventy-year-old Mol is the female influence; argumentative Treppie is Pop and Mol's younger brother; and the hulking Lambert, forty years old, mentally ill, and afflicted by epilepsy, is Pop and Mol's son. Though they are afforded protected white status, their lives are bleak, crippled by poverty, restricted by lack of education, and corrupted by incest that started when Pop, Mol, and Treppie were children and now includes Lambert—who may be either Pop's or Treppie's son; no one knows for sure. "Whatever else the Benades are, they're luridly alive," Nixon remarked. Despite the depravity, the crushing poverty, the dysfunction, and the rage, "a few good days lighten the atmosphere, and, gradually, we come to root for the Benades—even to like them," observed Washington Post Book World reviewer Matt Steinglass.
As Lambert's fortieth birthday approaches—it coincides with the country's Apartheid-ending elections—the family makes plans to escape to the north if the new government causes an outbreak of violence. Lambert, in the grip of unaccustomed anticipation, prepares for the prostitute that Pop and Treppie promised him for his birthday, a visit that soon eclipses the family's concerns about the looming elections. Lambert's to-do list includes dipping the family dog so that the woman doesn't catch fleas; making sure that Treppie starts flushing the toilet; and cleaning the kitchen, which somehow results in an explosion. "Nothing ever goes right, yet a redemptive affection allows the Benades to survive death, revelations, even the establishment of a black government," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic.
Steinglass called Triomf "a daring, vicious and hilarious flight of imagination, and it reveals Marlene van Niekerk as a writer who can imbue a tale of unspeakable brutality with the tenderness of a nature poem—or vice versa." The book is "widely considered the outstanding Afrikaans novel of the 1990s" and "is exquisitely written, but hardly a barrel of laughs," commented a reviewer on the Economist Web site. Triomf "is mercilessly funny in a way that extends the writing's compassionate reach," Nixon remarked. "Van Niekerk strips her barefoot Afrikaners naked, but grants them in return the dignity of a literary existence, a place in the layered human rubble of Sophiatown."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Triomf, p. 1250.
New York Times, March 7, 2004, Rob Nixon, "The White-Trash Bin of History," review of Triomf, p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, May 2, 2004, Matt Steinglass, "All in the Family: A Riotous Tale of the Afrikaaner Working Class Tests the Limits of Empathy," review of Triomf, p. 7.
Complete Review,http://www.complete-review.com/ (August 30, 2004), review of Triomf.
Overlook Press Web site,http://www.overlookpress.com/ (August 30, 2004), profile of Marlene van Niekirk.
Stellenbosch Writers Web site,http://www.stellenboschwriters.com/ (August 30, 2004), biography of Marlene van Niekerk.
[email protected],http://www.chico.mweb.co.za/ (August 30, 2004), Shaun de Waal, "A Novel That Finds Adversity in Triomf, "profile of Marlene van Niekerk.*