A Dry White Season Summary
by André Brink

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A Dry White Season Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In A Dry White Season, a successful novel which became a successful motion picture, Brink visits familiar terrain, namely Afrikaner South Africa (as opposed to British South Africa) at a time of moral and spiritual drought just prior to the coming of the storms of change that will bring this nation rain and renewal. As did his earlier novel, Rumours of Rain, Brink’s A Dry White Season gives readers a white South African protagonist, but this time one more in keeping with Brink’s own actively subversive nature, as well as one in tune with Steve Biko, a real-life hero who died after being tortured and killed while in the custody of the South African police at the very time this novel was written.

Unlike the narrator in Rumours of Rain, the generally self-seeking businessman Martin Mynhardt, this book concerns Ben du Toit, who from his student days has been an agent of resistance against the powers fostering the injustice he sees festering in his country. When Ben finds that Jonathan, the son of his school’s gardener, Gordon Ngubene, has had his skin deeply scored six times by a knife while being detained by police on suspicion of being part of a minor melee, he becomes enraged. Jonathan Ngubene has been supported by Ben and is a kind of son to him, so this act of brutality against Jonathan is appalling to Ben. Things, however, get worse when Ben finds that Gordon, the boy’s father, has disappeared after he searched for his son, who was in police custody. Gordon vanishes into the police state netherworld of apartheid secrecy, and Ben finds he must investigate Gordon’s fate, something that brings on his own destruction and martyrdom.

In this novel, Brink manages to deliver the physicality of his native South Africa, especially in his descriptions of all of those squalid, stinking, rotting, dangerous black townships, like Soweto, where the poor black majority of South Africans attempt to survive, but also in the glorious revealed splendor of that country’s veld lands with its famous animal denizens. Yet another sight, one even more memorable, is revealed when the curtain is parted and readers see state lock-ups filled with the detritus of despairing convicts, places where torture is a daily occurrence. Here is the state’s fearsome underbelly, a place where fear breeds hatred toward the feared. On the other hand, Brink also gives readers glimpses of humanity among the worst of these guards and torturers, seeing them as vulnerable persons whose pathetic lives are bound up in fear of “the Other,” here represented best by Gordon, Jonathan, and then Ben.

Brink’s readers function as both judge and jury for the old apartheid state of South Africa in the world’s courthouse of opinion. As prosecuting attorney, the author could be seen to say to them, as any good prosecutor would, “Here is the system we Afrikaners have assembled, and this terrible system does not deserve to live another day!”


Throughout the dark era of racial segregation and apartheid, André Brink felt that his responsibility as a writer was to report on and scrutinize the harshest aspects of South African society. This urge generated A Dry White Season (1979), the publication of which made Brink the first Afrikaner writer to be banned by the government. The novel espouses the cause of overt political commitment against the apartheid regime. It is firmly based within the South African political context of its day and clearly conceives itself as a tool for social change and consciousness raising. A Dry White Season challenges not only the political orthodoxy of apartheid but also the formal architecture, conventions, and themes that characterized literary works by Afrikaans authors. The book subverts the literary and cultural roots associated with the Afrikaans tradition by adopting modernist and postmodernist technical experimentation and by broadening the scope of acceptable subject matter, particularly in regard to politics and sexuality.

The novel is introduced...

(The entire section is 1,145 words.)