END PAPERS: Essays, Letters, Articles of Faith, Workbook Notes by Breyton Breytenbach

END PAPERS: Essays, Letters, Articles of Faith, Workbook Notes

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Breytenbach is an Afrikaans poet who (from 1975-82) was imprisoned in South Africa after defying a sentence of exile and reentering his native country in order to continue to speak out against apartheid. In this new volume of miscellaneous writings, half dating from before his imprisonment (1967-1974) and half from quite recent years (1984-85), Breytenbach offers a more diffuse focus than in his earlier volume of memoirs, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. The outright polemics (""Letter to Winnie Mandela""; ""The Writer and Responsibility"") are actually more effective than the rather self-important jottings on poetry and art (""Dead Locust Rumours and Language as the Random Thoughts of Camels""). Breytenbach's is not an especially genial voice, making this tour through 20 years of his (sometimes random) jottings-in-exile only occasionally effective: he does not have the supple receptivity of a great essayist. In describing both people and places, he is often amusing, if ungenerous: he reports that New York was full of ""thousands of ugly people"" and that Sophia Loren ""remains an attractive dame, uncomplicated and hospitable."" Reporters surrounding Borges at a reception are ""news suckers."" Finally, and utterly predictably, he decides that Los Angeles is plastic and has freeways but no center. The political essays here are the only ones effectively channelling the author's anger: ""It would seem as if history passed by the Afrikaners, the ultimate settlers from a previous and picaresque epoch. In the folds of darker and more pristine ages they live an archaic contradiction: they are people with a mission, put there by God with a purpose; they cling to the belief in predestination--which accounts for their obstinacy and their fatalism--and yet reject utterly the notion of historical determinism. They are a White African tribe tragically defending a superannuated vision of Western civilization, thereby dooming themselves and their values to extinction."" Such high points do much to redeem an otherwise uneven and self-indulgent collection.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux