RETURN TO PARADISE by Breyten Breytenbach


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 In what is developing as a series of journals of visits back home to South Africa (A Season in Paradise, 1980, recounted a secret incursion in 1974), Paris-based Afrikaans poet and activist ex-prisoner Breytenbach (Memory of Snow and Dust, 1989, etc.) here faces a homeland that now will admit him but that quivers with apprehension, where change is not close to jelling. Mandela is back on the scene, de Klerk has succeeded the jackboot Botha regime, and new possibilities seem to be in the wind. But possibilities are not structures, and Breytenbach is cleareyed enough to see orthodoxies reasserting themselves under different names. The ANC already appears to him top-heavy with nomenklatura; and while much white posturing is going on, white comprehension joins it rarely. As ever, Breytenbach's style is gauzy, poetic, and in the end a roadblock (``Before we didn't know of the existence of death, then we saw ducks copulating like the two hands of an old man trying to remember the art of forgetting, and we saw how the trees were black with fruit. The human being is destructive matter. The brief flame of knowing. Homo detritus. Carrion. My hands are rotting in Africa. The writer as destroyer of infinity''). It's a shame, too--for in his jaundiced eye, much that's valuable is registered (there's a revealing tableau, for instance, of Mandela during a state visit to France), a feeling for the African continent that's truly profound. But it's muddied nearly the whole way through by the impressionism and cockading stylistic swirls.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-177086-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993