MEMORY OF SNOW AND DUST by Breyten Breytenbach


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One of the most inpressionistic modern writers around, Parisian/South African poet Breytenbach uses fiction (as in his quasi-novel Mouroir) less to tell a story than to constellate a linguistic facade behind which politics, the essay, and poetry all hold joint court. The story here, what there is of it, concerns an Ethiopian woman journalist named Meheret, whose lover Mano is a mixed-race South African actor. Mano eventually will be doomed by his anti-apartheid activism--but, before that, he and Meheret will be exposed to an entire panoply of fashionable African and European intellectual bad-faith and narrowing. Most striking, along this theme, are prison mini-dialogues fabulated by a writer named Barnum, who seems in Breytenbach's cosmology to represent the pure aesthetical approach to culture bound by repression (i.e., South Africa). But, although the intentions are good and much of the thinking even better, Breytenbach's book is all but neutered novelistically by its lack of disciplined attention to narrative, its easy seduction by buzzwords (""We shall have silence and absence. We shall have nuclear plants. We shall generate riches by selling the tools of death, by feeding and flogging the death of others. We have consensus politics, on the Left and on the Right. . ."") and its sheer impatience to be significant at each bend. Sharp-witted and often thought-provoking, but a fairly soggy read.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux