Books by André Brink

PHILIDA by André Brink
Released: Feb. 5, 2013

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this tale of slavery, identity and the wages of sin is based in part on Brink's (A Fork in the Road, 2009, etc.) family history. Read full book review >
OTHER LIVES by André Brink
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

"While at times a bit facile and almost overly clever, an ultimately fascinating commentary on race and identity."
A realistic book with surrealistic twists that allows the author to explore themes of race in contemporary South Africa. Read full book review >
BEFORE I FORGET by André Brink
Released: April 1, 2007

"Cloying and pretentious."
A famous, progressive, aging South African writer salutes all the women he has loved in this latest from the famous, progressive, aging South African Brink (The Other Side of Silence, 2003, etc.). Read full book review >
ISLANDS by Dan Sleigh
by Dan Sleigh, translated by André Brink
Released: April 1, 2005

"Even so, Sleigh crafts a monumental tale about momentous events on the edge of the known world, an effort resulting in a major contribution to modern South African literature."
A sprawling historical charts the 1650 arrival of the Dutch in what is now South Africa and limns the troubles that followed. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 2003

"Intellectually and morally pretentious."
A didactic, overearnest allegory about the evils of colonialism and male chauvinism—in a story set in Germany and the former German colony of South West Africa, now Namibia. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2001

"A readable but clumsy primer on desire's insistence on living fully, whatever the outcome."
Anti-apartheid author Brink (Devil's Valley, 1999, etc.) has adapted to the new dispensation with stylistically experimental novels. But his latest, except for an awkward trace of magical realism, more conventionally details the painful lessons an old man learns when he falls in love.Read full book review >
DEVIL'S VALLEY by André Brink
Released: March 1, 1999

South African novelist and journalist Brink (Reinventing a Continent, 1998, etc.) offers a literary smorgasbord that's part myth, part allegory, and part conventional love story as he tells of a reporter's visit to a sinister community. Flip Lochner, now in his late 50's, has been deserted by his wife, and his journalism job is on hold. After the mysterious killing of Little-Lukas, a young man he befriended in a bar, he impulsively decides to explore Devil's Valley, where Little-Lukas was born. This isolated valley was settled in the early 1800s by followers of the fundamentalist Christian leader Lukas Lermiet, whose ghost Lochner meets as he begins his difficult trek. Lermiet's God-fearing band shunned the outside world and insisted on preserving their way of life even if it meant murdering outsiders, condoning the inbreeding that results in deformities, and refusing to share the land with blacks. As a matter of fact, they uncannily resemble those white South Africans who once thought they could maintain apartheid forever. But—and this is the story's oblique political theme'such an existence is finally neither possible nor desirable, for it is bound to corrupt (and destroy). Lochner, gradually obsessed by a vision of a beautiful woman bathing that overwhelmed him as he entered the valley, soon learns that she actually exists—and is none other than Emma, the very woman loved by Little-Lukas. As Lochner continues on his journey, he discovers that the valley is suffering from a terrible drought; he's visited by libidinous "night walkers" in his sleep; and he comes across still more ghosts. Naturally, he also falls for Emma, who alone seems "pure." When he tries to flee with her, though, the community joins to prevent them leaving a place that is indeed a spiritual hell-hole. Evocative, but too fraught and busy to cohere. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1998

Like slightly stale bread, these essays (most from the 1980s and early 1990s) by one of South Africa's leading novelists examining the role of that country's literature have seen better days. The end of apartheid struck South African artists particularly hard, remarks Brink. So much of their work had been premised on bravely decrying myriad injustices, on supporting the "struggle" as a weapon of liberation. Within these confines, hemmed in by censorship and oppression, extraordinary creativity flourished. But as Brink (Imaginings of Sand, 1996, etc.) notes, "imagination remained predicated on the presence of prison bars." As soon as the bars started to lift, many artists were overwhelmed by the burden of freedom. But Brink is an optimist. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he has avoided the deconstructionist obscurity or thinly veiled despair that characterizes so much white South African writing today. In fact, many of these essays revolve around potential new directions and roles for art. He goes as far as to compare apartheid's end to photography's freeing of 19th-century painting from the constraints of realism. Other essays are taken up with that perennial big issue: the role of art and the artist in society—especially a society where art, at first glance, looks like a luxury. Brink also examines Afrikaner society, rugby, and the minutiae of political developments. There are some embarrassingly adulatory encomiums to the African National Congress and its various politicos (though his accolades from the 1990s are a little more evenhanded). Brink has a clear and forceful, passionate style. But unlike an Orwell or a Greene, he is unable to transform the timeliness of most of these essays into something more timeless. Nelson Mandela contributes the book's preface. As a record of liberal white South African thought ten years ago, this is a peerless collection, but by almost any other criteria, most of these essays—with a few notable exceptions—are fast slipping into irrelevance. Read full book review >
Released: April 6, 1998

A collection of warmed-over, postmodern theorizing pieces on the centrality and self-consciousness of language in novels past and present. Echoing a view common to contemporary novelists and literary theorists, Brink (Imaginings of Sand, 1996, etc.), himself a distinguished South African writer and academic, views literature not so much as a historical progression, but, to use E.M. Forster's figuration, a group of writers in the same room, occasionally looking over each others' shoulders. His not entirely original spin on this is that literature—even a 500-year-book like Don Quixote—has always been deeply concerned with and informed by language. In other words, all novels are at heart postmodern. Brink's deconstructionist tendencies, however, are somewhat tempered by existentialist, and even heroic, leanings: "Language is an attempt, as doomed as it is indispensable, to . . . correct silence—even if it is known beforehand that silence is incorrigible." In the 15 books he examines, including Emma, Middlemarch, The Trial, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, Brink takes to his task with all the callow enthusiasm of a clever undergraduate, larding his argument with all the canonical authorities, hounding the text, heaping high his arguments on shallow foundations. But he rarely conveys his love for the work at hand. His analyses often read more like a clinical diagnosis of an unpleasant disease. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of using a book/text/words to argue for the "final meaninglessness of language." South African academia tends to be years behind the West, and it shows painfully here. Still, one can only wonder why a respected author would spend time and effort on such a stultifying and ultimately absurd effort. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

Brink (On the Contrary, 1994, etc.) awkwardly mixes magic realism, feminist rhetoric, and political reportage as a South African family's blood-soaked past becomes a reprise of the country's own violent history. When sister Anna calls Kristien in London and tells her that their dying grandmother, Ouma, has stories that she must tell her, Kristien is not entirely surprised. In a dream the night before the call, Ouma had appeared to her on the back of a big bird. And there will be more birds—at the family farm and in the hospital where Ouma now is, badly burned after her farmhouse was set on fire. Kristien, who left South Africa because of apartheid, returns on the eve of the first multiracial elections to find the fearful country caught up in violence. Whites and Coloreds (people of mixed race) are especially fearful, and some whites, like Kristien's boorish brother-in-law Casper, have formed armed militias. Paralleling these developments are the fables Ouma tells Kristien. Like some antique Scheherezade, Ouma, more than a hundred years old, proceeds to spend the last days of her life entrusting Kristien with the family stories. And Brink, who has embraced feminism with admirable but uncritical enthusiasm, puts women at the center of these tales. They dominate, shape, and define the past, which too neatly includes a Khaikhoi woman captured by an Afrikaner farmer and then protected by the birds; a Boer Gargantua who hefts wagons, heals, and speaks out on women's rights; a lesbian and her lover; and Ouma herself, who ran off with a Jewish singer. When Ouma finally dies, Kristien's sister Anna, long-abused by Casper and fearful of the future, makes a tragic decision, but Kristien is empowered and ready to stay and help the new country. The past is only schematically reworked here, but the recent present is engagingly fresh and touching as Brink records the high emotions of the historic days of April 1994. Read full book review >
ON THE CONTRARY by André Brink
Released: Aug. 17, 1994

South African novelist Brink (Cape of Storms, 1992, etc.) again revisits the past to tell a picaresque tale that is also a heartfelt but clumsy mea culpa. Drawing on sources as varied as Cervantes and period histories, Brink appropriates the bare outlines of French-born Estienne Barbier's life and turns them into a tale weighted with symbolism and myth. The suggestion that Barbier was an ``eighteenth century Cape social bandit'' provides the political and moral heft for a character who otherwise is a liar, a shameless seducer, and self-seeking adventurer. Barbier, awaiting execution for fomenting rebellion and defying local officials, relates his life story in the form of a letter to Rosette, a slave he had helped escape from the Cape. Once the ill-treated property of the odious Allemann family, Rosette is also a mythic storyteller. With the spirit of Joan of Arc and a copy of Don Quixote as his trusty companions, Barbier offers contradictory reasons for his coming to the Cape, but he becomes more credible as he recounts run-ins with the local Dutch authorities, his seductions, and his growing sympathy for the indigenous peoples. Betrayed by friends, with a price on his head, he ventures into the interior searching for Rosette and for the legendary kingdom of Monomatapa, as well as a way to ``break the cycle of hate and vengeance.'' Many of the living and dead he meets forgive him, but others demand punishment. ``It is a terrible via dolorosa, yet I exult. This is my necessary purging on behalf of all of us who have invaded this space to subjugate it with our presumption and visit with our devastation.'' Ready now for death, Barbier remains an unlikely—and unconvincing—voice for reconciliation and contrition. Despite some brilliant moments, the novel is more a creakily schematic reworking of history than a persuasive illumination of South Africa's tangled past. Disappointing. Read full book review >
CAPE OF STORMS by André Brink
Released: June 1, 1993

Novella-length fable from South African writer Brink (An Act of Terror, 1989, etc.) that playfully suggests a mythic origin for his country's entangled cultures. Brink first takes a classic Greek legend that recounts the tragic love of the Titan Adamastos for Thetis, Nymph and Princess of the Wave, whose attempts at consummation are followed by Zeus turning him into the ``jagged outcrop of the Cape peninsula''; he then adds a few refinements, suggested by the great Portuguese poet Camoes, who transformed Adamastos into Adamastor, the god of the Cape of Storms—it is this Adamastor who apocalyptically warned of storms that would leave a beautiful shipwrecked victim at the mercy of the indigenous peoples, one of whom would become her lover. Finally, Brink adds his own twist as he invents the story of the Portuguese woman who, left behind by sailors frightened by the natives' assaults, is loved by T`kama, chief of the Khoikhoin, the tribe that once lived at the Cape. T`kama, who will die many deaths over the centuries, leads his reluctant tribesmen—along with the woman—into the interior. Attempts to consummate his love are frustrated, as his member—despite the ministrations of a healer- -begins to assume a huge and uncomfortable size; meanwhile, the tribe is beset with unnatural disasters, and, holding the woman responsible, beg T`kama to leave her behind. Thanks to the intervention of a well-placed crocodile, however, love finally conquers all, a child is born, and the tribe's fortunes improve. This brief happiness will end when, back in the Cape, the woman is kidnapped by sailors, leaving the child behind—a child of mixed race who lives on as consolation for the grieving T`kama, who has learned ``how dangerous it is to love.'' Brink has wittily created a splendid new myth in which primal emotions expand in a magical landscape—one rich in local allusions and profound foreshadowing and, in keeping with the genre, suitably bawdy. Read full book review >
AN ACT OF TERROR by André Brink
Released: Jan. 1, 1992

A pretentious megabook with mega themes from South African novelist Brink, already somewhat overtaken by events in South Africa and elsewhere. At the heart of the story are Tom Landman and Nina Jordaan, a young couple with impeccable Afrikaner credentials, who join a group plotting to assassinate the State President. When the attempt fails and Nina is killed trying to escape, Tom goes into hiding. As Tom, haunted by the death of Nina, tries to evade the security police headed by a fanatical brigadier, he recalls the seminal events that led to their decision to resort to terror. He meets free-spirited and courageous Lisa, another rebellious Afrikaner, who accompanies him on his long and perilous flight through the Cape countryside to the border. The police are always close behind, though the journey provides opportunities for leisurely encounters with certifiable types—the religious obsessive father, treacherous on principle; the loyal family retainer; and the simple but good self-made man. The pursuit ends in a fiery climax in which much is resolved, but the book doesn't end—not yet. To add more heft to an already big tome, Brink, who has frequently interrupted a basically exciting suspense story with self-conscious and labored discussions of when terror is justified, a sort of Ethics 101, now adds what is virtually another book: Tom Landman, somewhere in Africa, gives a ``tribal history'' of the 13 generations of Landmans in South Africa, conveniently allowing Brink to explore Afrikaner preoccupations and their place in Africa. Set in 1989, before the release of Mandela and the end of communism, the story, however compelling the scenes of police brutality, seems already dated—which wouldn't matter if characters weren't relentlessly trendy stereotypes illustrating equally trendy theories. Disappointing. Read full book review >
Released: May 17, 1989

Philip Malan is a South African professor who finds himself in over his head with a young graduate assistant, Melissa. But sexual and domestic chaos is only complemented, even overshadowed, by what is going on in the country: the ever-tightening noose of the Emergency, with police running amok on the campuses and becoming pure murderous outlaws in the townships. Brink (A Dry White Season, Rumors of Rain) finds the counterpoint a little obvious, however (which it is), and so constructs his book along the lines of a trick: Malan's and Melissa's affair will actually be a hypothetical love story being deconstructed by a tweedy writer who comments his way through it in modish critical accents, mostly French: "At the same time their discovery, rediscovery or invention of the past coincides with my exploration as author, of their historical dimension. Their love is my narrative. (Barthes: 'At the origin of narrative: desire.') In both cases there is a breaking into language: the language of history, the language of story." What makes this weak and increasingly silly posture so frustrating is that when Brink has the hypothetical writer imagining Malan's and Melissa's affair, it is imagined against the backdrop of real-life scenes of neofascist brutality going on in South Africa during the Emergency. The documentary recording of this brutal reality in a novel carries some weight—weight that Brink's arch and trendy metafiction-mess unwittingly undercuts, even mocks. Authorial despair taking more than one easy way out. Dispiriting. Read full book review >