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OTHER LIVES by André Brink

OTHER LIVES

By André Brink

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4022-1391-5
Publisher: Sourcebooks

A realistic book with surrealistic twists that allows the author to explore themes of race in contemporary South Africa.

Brink (Before I Forget, 2007, etc.) presents his narrative in three discrete but related parts. The first, “The Blue Door,” begins with an allusion to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, a story that supplies an appropriate metaphor for the world Brink’s characters inhabit. David and Lydia are preparing for a dinner party with their friends Steve and Carla. As David, an artist who has recently experienced some commercial success, steps through the blue door that leads to his house, he’s greeted by cries of “Daddy!”—strange, because in their nine years of marriage he and Lydia have had no children. An even bigger shock occurs when he’s also greeted by his “wife,” Sarah, a black woman of great beauty and sex appeal. Just as Gregor Samsa tries to make sense of his situation, Steve also is bewildered but ultimately accepting of this strange new world. “Mirror” involves a similar tale of transformation. This story focuses on Steve and Carla, but here Steve looks into the elaborate art nouveau mirror Carla has bought and discovers he is in fact black. Other characters take this dream reality at face value (no pun intended)—for them Steve has always been black—but Steve needs to accommodate himself to a new self-image, one that he doesn’t comfortably inhabit. Toward the end of this section he and Carla are having a quiet dinner at a local restaurant when they’re interrupted by five masked thugs. Carla startles Steve by urging him to engage these quasi-terrorists in a dialogue because “‘You’re one of them.’ ” The final episode follows the relationship between Derek Hugo, a pianist who teaches the two talented daughters of Steve and Carla, and Nina Rousseau, a talented but reclusive soprano, who wind up being caught in the same terrifying restaurant experience.

While at times a bit facile and almost overly clever, an ultimately fascinating commentary on race and identity.