(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brink possesses the restless spirit of a rebel and innovator whose ideas led him to confrontations with South African authorities during the apartheid era. He is at his best depicting the rural districts he knew as a boy, where white girls and boys often had as best friends the very same black girls and boys from whom they would wall off themselves in adult life. Yet despite the dictates of the old and now dismantled apartheid system, the whites, even as adults, would sometimes surprise themselves by falling in lust—or even in love—with someone of another race. Brink also is at his best when he graphically portrays the human costs resulting from the onerous apartheid laws—the beatings, the jailings, and the state-sanctioned murders.

In his earliest novels written in Afrikaans, Brink portrays those who, being at emotional and spiritual odds with fellow Afrikaners, find ways to divorce themselves from the country’s soul-killing narrowness. During the apartheid period, people like Brink and those characters who resembled him followed their own internal countercultural compass and found themselves aliens in their own land, persons no longer considered part of the “white tribe” in which they had been raised.

Brink, in a large sense, envisions himself to be the true Afrikaner chronicler of the long, slow decline of white South African power and authority and the rise of a multicultural nation in its place. Through flashbacks, uninvolved narrators, diary entries, and other methods of showcasing the failures of apartheid’s pass laws and immorality acts, its violence and brutality, and its more subtle means of coercing conformity, his aim is to depict how even the most determined efforts to maintain the status quo, to keep fear at bay through the dehumanizing of those perceived as “different,” are bound to collapse when subversive events, such as love arising between those of differing ethnicity, relentlessly works against the creaky, jerry-built apartheid structure, eventually causing it to collapse.

Rumours of Rain

First published: Gerugte van Reën, 1978 (English translation, 1978)

Type of work: Novel

A world-weary and rich Afrikaner business executive experiences an existential dilemma that forces him to reconsider the realities of apartheid.

Martin Mynhardt’s ties to his family farm in the Eastern Cape of Good Hope could form a barrier to the acquisitive desires of a land-hungry company that wants to own and control the region outright. Yet Martin is not the sort of person to sentimentalize his roots or to care much about the effect of the farm’s loss on family members and their black retainers.

There are, however, two people in Martin’s world whom he does actually care for—far more than he cares for his emotionally estranged wife, Elise, or his angry, disillusioned son, Louis: namely, his old childhood friend and companion, the political revolutionary Bernard, and his lovely wife—and Martin’s last lover—Bea, an Italian expatriate and political activist who came to South Africa at a young age. Martin’s existential dilemma is whether to help his old friends by hiding important writings that Bernard pleads with Martin to take with him, thereby putting Martin’s life in mortal danger as an enemy of the South African state, or to sell out his friends and resume some semblance of his previous politically uninvolved life. Martin then is faced with the hardest of choices: Should he once again turn traitor to Bernard—since Martin already betrayed Bernard by falling in love with Bea—and destroy everything Bernard had attempted to do with his life by turning state’s evidence, or should he invite certain death by being seen as Bernard and Bea’s accomplice in treason against the state?

Thus, this novel is about the loyalties of the heart, things people ignore only at their peril: Martin’s long-standing marriage to Elise, interrupted over the years by various infidelities; his emotional ties to and sense of responsibility for his son Louis, a soldier in South Africa’s losing...

(The entire section is 1689 words.)