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.
An impossible love story, it is not impossible in the traditional sense of love between mismatched partners, but because it shows how no love is possible between persons fundamentally unequal. Philida’s voice is the first voice we hear, and hers is a voice to attend to: idiomatic, lyrical, querulous, searching. Philida is on her way to lodge a complaint against Frans. He made promises, among others, to seek her manumission. She bore his children. But it appears he deceived her, when in fact he deceived himself. Francois “Frans” Brink, the feckless son of the hardheaded patriarch of Zandvliet, is not worthy of the slave Philida. How Frans responds to this complaint changes Philida’s mind and heart, but the larger socioeconomic conditions have the more lasting effect. The book begins in 1832; the slaves were “freed” in the colonies in 1834. Writing about his own family, Brink is silent, eloquently so, on its rampant hypocrisy, epitomized by Petronella, known as Ouma Nella. She is Philida’s protector but also the mother of Cornelis Brink, Frans’ father and Philida’s owner. The book traces the lacerating trajectory of the sins of parents, parents’ scars like open wounds on their children’s bodies. There is an astonishing frankness about the facts of life and a visionary lyricism in relation to these cruel facts. The “Acknowledgements” section details the genesis of the novel. In its way, it is as thrilling as the book itself.