André Philippus Brink is the first Afrikaans writer to have achieved an international reputation. Because of his competence in English, he can undertake his own translations. Brink recoils from the common bigotry that marks South Africa and speaks against racism in a voice of persuasive commitment. He once wrote that it was “a very simple, if very disgusting fact” that “essentially more than 90 percent of Afrikaans writers are more or less pro-establishment, pro-system, pro-government.” For such views he was one of the first Afrikaans writers to suffer the censorship and bannings regularly imposed upon English-language authors. Yet he deliberately avoided martyrdom or exile, preferring to exist in his country as an academic while making his concerns and protests entirely apparent in his novels. This situation caused him to comment on the nearly intolerable situation he faced as an Afrikaans writer, an existence in which he was “by the very nature of his position, a cultural schizophrene.”
After obtaining master’s degrees in both English and Afrikaans at Potchefstroom University, Brink spent two years in Paris. The political, literary, and intellectual freedom there, which astounded him, enabled him to work on an innovative novel, Lobola vir die lewe (pledge for life). Although mild by international standards, it horrified the Calvinists for its mention of sex, and so began the national condemnation of Brink’s work.
His desire to modernize both Afrikaans and the Afrikaner motivated his involvement in the launching of the magazine Sestiger (“Sixty-ite”) in the early 1960’s. The magazine was directed less against the political restrictions of the society than against its constraints on artistic liberty. Both the topics and the language of its articles seemed radical for the time. Brink editorialized that an artist must be “a spiritual saboteur.” Because that kind of proclamation in the context of South Africa was unusual, if not dangerous, it was surprising that the journal survived even two harassed years. Its demise in 1965, contrived by an angered establishment, did not terminate the association, and the more innovative Afrikaans writers continued to be grouped as the “sestigers.” This term eventually became a sort of national swear word.
Brink has been a prodigious worker. Jake Cope calculates that by the age of thirty Brink had written twenty-five books of all kinds, including travelogues, plays, and numerous translations into Afrikaans of popular literature. At this time Brink produced his first clearly political novel, deriving from the “July raids” on subversives by the police. Some of Brink’s friends were brought to trial on charges of sabotage. The book was refused publication, and during 1968 and 1969 Brink again retreated to Paris. He decided that he must return, however, incensed by the realization that “no Afrikaans writer has yet tried to offer a serious political challenge to the system.” His view of his countrymen was both scornful and specific: “One can hardly expect any truly great writing from . . . Afrikaner word-mongers who are . . . pro-apartheid.” In a revised form, Looking on Darkness was published in 1973. It describes the forbidden relationship between a “colored” man and a white British woman and exposes its inevitable criminal consequence, the cruel brutality of the security police. Looking on Darkness became the first Afrikaans novel to be banned by the predominantly Afrikaner censorship board.
Brink’s next work, An Instant in the Wind, has a...
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