The Other Side of Silence (Magill Book Reviews)
Based on historical fact, The Other Side of Silence recounts how the German government transported poor and desperate women to its colony in South-West Africa. There they attended to the needs of the predominantly male population as wives or unwilling sex partners. When the women arrived, the male settlers married the desirable ones to serve as helpmates and, ideally, to produce a new generation of Germans in Africa. The rejected ones ended up in a remote settlement called “Frauenstein,” which actually existed into the twentieth century.
The fictitious central character, Hanna X, evolves into a kind of “everywoman.” Through careless record keeping, she even lost her last name. Hanna grew up in a German orphanage, where she experienced privation, beatings, and sexual molestation by a minister. Placed in domestic service at an early age, she confronted a series of cruel mistresses and sex-hungry masters. An ugly and difficult girl, yet intelligent, she finds rare comfort and friendship from a teacher who introduces her to literature and history, including the story of Joan of Arc.
As a young woman, Hanna volunteers to go to Africa. Shortly after she arrives an army officer attempts to rape her. She resists and undergoes a severe whipping and knifing, which leaves her tongueless and physically disfigured. Banished to Frauenstein, she eventually rebels and, like Joan of Arc, forms her own ragtag army consisting of abused women and...
(The entire section is 327 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Other Side of Silence (Magill's Literary Annual 2004)
André Brink frames The Other Side of Silence with an author’s commentary to explain that much of the novel draws from the history of the German colony formerly known as South-West Africa. Brink establishes how the German government, during the early twentieth century, sent to Africa destitute German women—of child-bearing age—to become the male colonists’ wives and to produce a new generation of Germans who would rule and exploit the region for years to come. He also reveals how the men rejected some of the women whom they considered unattractive or disobedient or barren. These castoffs ended up in a remote settlement called the Frauenstein, where they lived isolated lives and occasionally served as sex partners for the German soldiers who were patrolling the countryside. Historical documents support all of these lurid details.
What intrigues Brink, though, are the actual women who made the trip to Africa in search of a better life. Their names and vital statistics appear in archives, but the reality of their womanhood and their individuality has been lost. Here the fiction writer sets out to re-create one of these desperate travelers, a person actually named Hanna X. She evolves into a kind of “everywoman” as she is cast into the colonial wilderness and left to the mercy of the dominant male population. Brink explains going through the records and discovering the woman to whom he gives life: “The name was what first...
(The entire section is 1703 words.)