Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
André Brink’s novel is framed by a legal deposition, including criminal charges, which opens it, and by a legal verdict, including the results of the investigation, which concludes it. In the quasi-legal documents, dated 1825, the reader discerns only the “facts” of a reported slave insurrection on the three van der Merwe family farms; eleven defendants are charged with the conspiracy, which has resulted in three murders and the serious wounding of a woman. Against the clinical, authoritative tone of the legal framework, Brirk sets four sections of his chronicle: the childhood of the van der Merwe sons, their deteriorating marriages and early adult life, the tensions leading to the slave insurrection, and the events of the insurrection itself. Each section consists of first-person “testimonies” from the point of view of the characters themselves; consequently, the novel unfolds between the extremes of the legal, objective perspective and of the multiplicity of subjective perspectives. Without any single, unifying narrative voice, the reader is confronted with the task of reconstructing the history of South African frontier life in the early days of British colonial rule and the effects of slavery upon it. In doing so, the reader is ushered subtly into the social and psychological tensions that inform twentieth century South African racial strife.
In the opening section, Ma Rose, who has lived on Piet van der Merwe’s farm for much of her life...
(The entire section is 1341 words.)
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