André Brink Brink, André (Vol. 18) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brink, André 1935–

Brink is a South African novelist, playwright, and editor. A passionate antagonist of apartheid, a subject that recurs in all of his work, Brink is more often praised for the intensity of his convictions than for his skill in fictionalizing them. Although his works have twice received the South African Central News Agency Literary Prizes, several have been officially banned for their antigovernment stance.

Jane Larkin Crain

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ambitious and disturbing, [Looking on Darkness, an] anatomy of racist South African society by one of its most prominent writers, was banned immediately upon publication in that country. Approaching the stature of tragedy, the novel records the ordeal of Joseph Malan, a Colored actor who is forced to choose either the desolation of exile or oppression and destruction at the hands of the white establishment. In a book that frequently achieves, in scenes of cruelty, torture, and degradation, an unbearable intensity, Mr. Brink maintains steady control of his plot's several threads, which add up to a faceted exploration of the spiritual and cultural trauma that is the legacy of apartheid. Given the essential integrity of Mr. Brink's enterprise, one notes only with reluctance those passages, neither negligible nor infrequent, that run by turns to tendentiousness, affectation, and melodrama. Still, a passionately human vision rules here, informed by an imagination that is attuned at once to complex and important abstractions and to the rhythms and the texture of everyday experience. Altogether, a memorable and consistently serious novel. (pp. 45-6)

Jane Larkin Crain, "New Books: 'Looking on Darkness'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1975 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 2, No. 24, August 23, 1975, pp. 45-6.

Political injustice and the indignities and horrors of South African race hatred are the subjects of ["Looking on Darkness"], which was banned by the South African Supreme Court for being "pornographic, blasphemous, and Communistic." While it is certainly none of these things, neither is it by any means the "major literary achievement" it is being called by its publisher. For one thing, Mr. Brink is white, and his narrator—an actor of mixed European-African descent who has been imprisoned for murdering his white mistress—simply never sounds right. The tone of outrage seems real enough, but there's more European-café than backwater-slave-quarter in his voice.

"Briefly Noted: 'Looking on Darkness'," in The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LI, No. 27, August 25, 1975, p. 86.

Martin Tucker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A profound love that is made to know every bond in a repressive state—these are the "givens" in [Looking on Darkness]…. (p. 410)

Clearly the novel is going to be discussed as work of artistic merit (or lack of it), a document of liberal suasion and plea for change, a propagandistic statement of the horrors of South African policy, and a herald of South African literary development.

It deserves the attention.

The novel is structured in the form of a confessional. Joseph Malan sits in his jail cell, awaiting execution. He has been convicted of the murder of his lover, Jessica Thomason. He writes his "confession" because "it is necessary to empty myself completely, in order to return into myself." … (pp. 410-11)

In Jessica, Joseph finds his deepest tie. Their love is physical, symbiotic, unbreakable. They grow so close they cannot break apart without destroying a part of themselves. And so, one night, Joseph "murders" Jessica in a mutual pact, though he does not kill himself, he allows the South African courts to do that.

The style of the novel is compelling: it is a work that throbs with personal intensity. Some of the passages on art, on commitment, on the theatre, on the gay life in Capetown smell of the novelist's greasepaint, but such spots do not matter in the total canvas…. Brink has been compared to Solzhenitsyn—particularly because of the government harassment each has encountered—but in style and temperament he is closer to Pasternak and Dr. Zhivago....

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Nick Totten

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In An Instant in the Wind a] civilised woman, her husband dead, is lost in the wilderness (this time South African); [she is] rescued by an escaped prisoner (this time a black slave) with whom she experiences for the first time fulfilled sexual love, but whom she betrays after the long trek back to civilisation.

[Although] the novel is set in the eighteenth century, [Mr Brink] is writing of the immediate political mythos of his country—he is, in fact, writing blasphemy. In such circumstances only an almost superhumanly cool nerve could walk that razor's edge between racial phantasy and individual imagination, between allegory and psychology, which could have made this a great book.

As it is, An Instant in the Wind is a very valuable window into South African white culture—even, to some small extent, into black culture. What it conveys most strongly is the relationship of the white settlers to the land itself: powerful, ambivalent, struggling with love and with hate. But Mr Brink fails in his attempt to establish a single vision of macrocosm and microcosm, 'the land which happened inside us' as Adam the black calls it. The central relationship breaks apart: on the one hand, a strongly drawn love relationship that could have happened anywhere, and on the other, a morality play of Black and White. Could black slave and white mistress have shared such a sophisticated vocabulary in which to communicate? Without knowing, one doubts it; and doubts also whether it matters. The historical, the political perspective which could have held psychology and allegory together is ultimately not present. (pp. 29-30)

Nick Totten, "Trekking: 'An Instant in the Wind'," in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 237, No. 7734, September 18, 1976, pp. 29-30.

Raymond A. Sokolov

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It would be a pleasure only to say that ["An Instant in the Wind"] was a brave cry against the murdering, racist society that still rules South Africa today. It is, but novels must be more than political acts of defiance, and it is not enough to fill pages with material that will shock official taste. Once we adjust to the fact that Elizabeth and Adam are not the same color, we cannot help noticing that, apart from this, André Brink has written and overwritten a hackneyed love story that drags on and on through long passages of tedious landscape descriptions and stilted romantic interchanges. It is important, for political reasons, that Brink should be published, but doubtful on the evidence of this book that he will be read for his art as a writer.

Raymond A. Sokolov, "'An Instant in the Wind'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 27, 1977, p. 31.

Robert L. Berner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

An Instant in the Wind is the third of André Brink's novels which he has published in Afrikaans and then translated into English. The first, published in England as File on a Diplomat (1964), was an experiment in point of view in the manner of the Alexandria series of Lawrence Durrell, whom Brink quoted in an epigraph to the effect that sexual love is "a form of metaphysical enquiry." His two recent novels pursue the implications of this notion as it applies to the bugbear of miscegenation. Looking on Darkness … was a frank confrontation with miscegenation in a contemporary South African setting. An Instant in the Wind confronts miscegenation in the colonial past—a subject taboo in South Africa because estimates of the probable African component in the Afrikaner genetic pool threaten the rigid simplifications of apartheid.

What Brink has produced is a historical novel with an almost documentary degree of verisimilitude. Elizabeth Larsson, the Afrikaner bride of a Swedish naturalist, finds herself alone in the veld when her husband is killed. She is saved by Adam Mantoor, a runaway "Coloured" convict with whom she treks back to Cape Town…. The drama inherent in their relationship and the process by which they gradually come to love each other are subtly presented. The narrative drifts in and out of the mental processes of the two principals as the scene and the internal drama interrelate.

But more than for its interest as evidence of Brink's artistic development, it is the recognition of the relationship of sex to politics that makes An Instant in the Wind a remarkable work of South African literature. The tragedy of Adam and Elizabeth is inherent in the system of racial caste; as Adam says, "If their white women start doing this sort of thing, it undermines everything in which they've got to believe if they want to remain masters in the land." It is difficult to see how any South African novelist will be able to surpass the honesty of this novel or the real courage—both as artist and as political man—which enabled Brink to write it. (pp. 668-69)

Robert L. Berner, "South Africa: 'An Instant in the Wind'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 4, Autumn, 1977, pp. 668-69.

Phoebe-Lou Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The narrator of this long and convoluted novel [Rumours of Rain] is a mining entrepreneur whose confessions are intended to illustrate the thinking of South Africa's upper bourgeoisie—the sort of people who would not personally abuse a black but firmly support a government that does little else. The fellow's only principles are money and safety, and for them he betrays friend, colleague, brother, mother, wife, and mistress, and will eventually betray his son. Mr. Brink, himself a South African, makes this character entirely convincing but also, unfortunately, so predictable that in spite of the variety of episodes in which the man is involved—a real panorama of South African problems—he becomes tiresome.

Phoebe-Lou Adams, "PLA: 'Rumours of Rain'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1978, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 242, No. 4, October, 1978, p. 117.

Lewis Nkosi

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

André Brink, an Afrikaner dramatist and novelist, belongs to a coterie of distinguished English-speaking writers who can best be described as "doom-watchers". Tirelessly, they chronicle the national sins of commission and omission, and in novel after novel they expose the injury and sickness to which the country is mortgaged by the stubborn pursuit of indefensible racial policies.

Martin Mynhardt, the hero of [Rumours of Rain]—if a buck-passing moral coward like Mynhardt can be called a hero—is a successful entrepreneur, a speculator both in land deals and in friendships, who candidly admits that people are to him "economic propositions". He is callous, insensitive, and morally evasive….

Brink's strategy of using the voice of the Afrikaner bigot to pinpoint the moral failures of the system nearly comes off; but in the end his consistent lack of virtue leaves a vacuum at the centre of the novel…. [There] is no indication by the end of the novel that Mynhardt has profited in any way from his experience. No growth, no moral understanding of his predicament….

From time to time the author's disguise begins to slip and the narrator-hero, pretending he is not Mr Brink's mouth-piece, merely sounds arch. At such times even the prose, usually adequate for its purposes, dissolves into banality….

However, the novel has good moments when the author allows us to see, beyond the larger catastrophes, the small fragmented emotions which are woven into the South African tragedy….

It is to his credit that Brink is determined to raise all the painful issues in his fiction. But coming as he does from an ethnic group whose writers have not in the past seemed very eager to ruffle anyone up Brink is sometimes too conscious of his social duties, and in his zeal to discharge them seems prepared to cram everything into a novel whose length is not always justified by its performance.

Lewis Nkosi, "Afrikaner Arithmetic," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3994, October 20, 1978, p. 1196.

Daphne Merkin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Set against the background of the South African drought and culminating in a torrent of rain, Rumours of Rain depicts a parched human landscape of stealthy, eruptive thirsts. André Brink has taken a large, ideologically-charged premise and proceeds to render it in intimate terms without—and this might well be unique among such efforts—sacrificing any of its hard-edged, "political" implications. Brink writes about slim, barricaded identities: whites against blacks, men against women, sons against fathers, and the way in which distorted private histories affect the public arena. His book is strong, even stony, as befits its perception of a land and a people who have been forced to a belated and violent reckoning with history….

Rumours of Rain is an ambitious resonant novel that depicts a volatile situation with remarkable control and lack of sentimentality. It has, understandably, been compared to Cry, the Beloved Country, although Brink generally resists the poetic—that sonorous influence which made Alan Paton's novel a beautiful and timeless one, and the absence of which makes Rumours of Rain less "literary" and more urgent.

Daphne Merkin, "Brief Reviews: 'Rumours of Rain'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1978 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 179, No. 17, October 21, 1978, p. 44.

Jean Marquard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

André Brink's large, impressive novel [Rumours of Rain] maps the life of a contemporary, de-mythologized Afrikaner. He is Martin Mynhardt, an urbanized and secularized being; wealthy, sophisticated, sensual. He registers some of the changes that have occurred in the national psyche. A defensive complacency hiding increasing uneasiness is one such change…. Choosing moral disengagement in the interests of personal 'survival' [Mynhardt] discovers that survival in a void is hardly worth it…. And after all, as the title of the novel indicates, the deluge arrives at last. Brink's portrayal of the new Afrikaner as an anchorless paper-tiger of capitalist self-interest, is closely modelled on Nadine Gordimer's almost identical portrait of white cynicism in The Conservationist (1974). But although, magpie-like, he collects and rearranges other writers' ideas, Brink adds some items of his own. (p. 94)

Brink's original contribution in the novel is the creation of the revolutionary Bernard Frankel and here, with commendable audacity, he uses fiction as a means of smuggling into print the banned statements of one of South Africa's most famous political dissidents, Bram Fischer, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Pretoria in 1965 and subsequently died while still behind bars. In a beleagured situation Brink turns to the novel as a viable form of protest and so far he has got away with it. (pp. 94, 96)

Jean Marquard, "Selected Books: 'Rumours of Rain'," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1979), Vol. 19, No. 3, June, 1979, pp. 93-4, 96.

Blake Morrison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Perhaps all one can really hope for, all I am entitled to, is no more than this: to write it down. To report what I know. So that it will not be possible for any man ever to say again: I knew nothing about it.

Placed at the end of most novels these words would probably sound melodramatic or self-aggrandising or even slyly apologetic ('I'd have liked to have done more but …'). As the last words of André Brink's A Dry White Season, however, they're a quite proper reminder that in certain places at certain times the subtleties we normally demand from fiction seem almost beside the point: all that matters is that the truth be set down, preferably with...

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Eric Redman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Althouth Brink has been touted in America as "the obvious inheritor of Alan Paton's mantle," Paton speaks to the heart, evoking sorrow while Brink shouts to the conscience, invoking anger. And compared with Paton's or Gordimer's polished and graceful prose, Brink's writing seems crude indeed. André Brink is simply not a "great" writer; but he's an urgent, political one and an Afrikaner other Afrikaners can't ignore. (p. 5)

A Dry White Season, Brink's fourth novel, boldly attacks the security police and examines the tendency of political prisoners to commit suicide—or to die of "natural causes"—prior to trial. The terrorism statutes and unlimited pretrial detention have resulted in many...

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