A CHAIN OF VOICES by Andre Brink


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Through thin strands of individual narrative by the participating characters (the ""chain of voices""), Brink's novel reconstructs an 1823 up-country South African slave revolt--a revolt that smolders long, flares murderously (on a limited scale), but then is quickly snuffed. The van der Merwe family, Afrikans farmers, are the slave owners: old, dictatorial Piet; chip-off-the-old-block son Berend; meeker second son Nicolaas. But when Berend marries Hester, a girl who has been taken in by the family as a ward, Nicolaas--who pines for her--must settle instead for the prissy, pious Cecelia. So, for restless Nicolaas, sex is only possible with slave women--especially with the consorts of Galant, a slave whom Nicolaas grew up with almost as a brother. And Nicolaas' frustrated rage, which ebbs and peaks, will lead to the maltreatment (even the death) of Galant's children--and to the revolt, which is shown to arise from intertwined personal and social causes. Brink (Rumours of Rain, A Dry White Season) does an impressive job throughout in knitting the intimacy between owners and slaves, in showing motives uncamouflaged; each flogging is like yet one more knife thrown into a dangerous and dark bag whose seams bulge ominously. Less impressive, however, is the narrative structure: the voices of the title don't really link as a chain--they bite like small tacks. And, as in William Styron's not dissimilar Confessions of Nat Turner, the theme here--the sex/politics interface--often seems too simplistic in its determinism. So: a somewhat contrived historical reconstruction--but, like Brink's other work, admirably ambitious and fully, thoughtfully fictionalized.

Pub Date: May 13th, 1982
ISBN: 1402208650
Publisher: Morrow