A dark winter of the spirit in a South African setting--and limned in sometimes too exquisite prose--by the author of Another Country (1992). Though his novel's set against a background suggestive of the oppressions of the recent past, Schoeman, an Afrikaner living abroad, is more concerned with the universal implications of violence, the role of creativity ``under siege,'' and the destruction of long-held ethnic shibboleths. Protagonist Adriaan, an acclaimed Afrikaner poet, lives in Cape Town, but the city's familiar landmarks are incidental, for what is happening to Adriaan and the city is reminiscent of places like Sarajevo--places where, as a fellow poet observes, ``There was a community, there was something happening here, something was alive--that's all gone now.'' Now in this city, in this ``burnt-out country,'' barbed wire closes off roads, and blood stains the asphalt. Over a dreary rainy winter, Adriaan, who is also mourning the departure of his lover Stephan, finds he cannot write. His job at a small museum cataloging donations seems futile; the local literati's posturing even more desperate; and the country's future bleak. Old friends flee to Europe, abandoning beloved homes in the countryside because there's no point going on, while others realize that they've been duped by the authorities, by Afrikaner mythology. Referring to a visit into the countryside, a journalist friend admits that, like a foreigner, he can now look cleareyed at what is happening: at the pervasive violence and poverty. As the winter ends, Adriaan, reconciled to solitude, has taken leave, as it were, of the place, and begins to write again, acknowledging ``that love remains, and memories, but that could never be enough. One did one's work.'' Life, creativity will endure. Palpably dark and apocalyptic evocations of GîtterdÑmmerung and creative despair, though the themes are long in the working, and never quite live up to their implied promise.