André Phillipus Brink was the first of four children born to a local Afrikaner magistrate and a schoolteacher on May 29, 1935, in the Orange Free State, South Africa. The Afrikaners are descendants of seventeenth century Dutch and Huguenot immigrants who settled three main areas in what is today South Africa. Brink’s parents shared their home region’s strict Dutch Reformed Church’s Calvinistic religious beliefs and evinced the Afrikaner suspicion of and disdain for the Bantu (black) and Cape Coloured (mixed race) peoples of Southern Africa.
Growing up in a household where his father’s judicial work moved them from place to place in the Free State, Brink was exposed at an early age to the Afrikaner Nationalist Party politics espoused by his father and his friends, especially their distrust of the British rulers of South Africa, a remembrance focusing on past grievances, including the Boer War of 1899-1902, wherein Afrikaners were killed in great numbers and placed in the first of the world’s concentration camps. His father and mother were, in their own way, exemplary citizens—dutiful, highly religious conformists careful about doing or saying anything out of the ordinary, and his siblings followed their lead. Brink was the only family member who would openly rebel against apartheid.
Brink went on to study Afrikaans and Dutch literature at South Africa’s highly conservative Potchefstroom University from 1956 to 1959. Feeling in need of a more worldly perspective than that afforded him by Potchefstroom, he elected to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, which he attended from 1959 to 1961. His encounters with French manners and mores, in addition to the opinions of contemporary European writers, led him to see his native land in new ways. In fact, the bohemianism and the literary existentialism of Parisian intellectuals allowed him to find creative ways to break with his restrictive Afrikaner upbringing. It was in Paris that he became conversant with major Continental directions in writing, and he would incorporate European depictions of explicit sexuality and violence into his work.
After graduating from the Sorbonne, Brink returned to South Africa...
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