Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Breyten Breytenbach made his reputation in South Africa first as a member of the Sestiger movement of the 1960’s, which sought to modernize both the language and the themes of Afrikaner poetry. Until this point, Afrikaans authors had loyally celebrated the historical, puritan virtues of Die Volk and left more controversial commentary to English-language writers.

Breytenbach spoke against the political and racial injustices in South Africa, enraging the traditionalist Afrikaners while exciting their radical young. His literary achievement and his linguistic verve were admired, even while his denunciations were condemned. The fact that he used Afrikaans for his writing limited his audience until his work was translated. Later he decided to write in English. The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist was his first work to receive international acclaim.

The genesis of this book is political. Breytenbach became a member of the banned African National Congress and was driven into exile. He chose Paris, where he worked as a painter. He wedded a Vietnamese woman, an act deemed miscegenation under the Race Relations Act of his country, which forbade interracial marriage. In spite of academic invitations, his marriage prevented his legal return. In 1975, he chose to enter South Africa on a forged French passport, intending to set up a new white revolutionary organization to be called Okhela. It is clear that he had passionate political convictions, but he proved an inept revolutionary.

Breytenbach was immediately recognized and followed by the police throughout his stay. On his attempted departure he was detained, arrested, and charged with “terrorism”—a blanket accusation in South Africa. He was unskillfully defended by lawyers,...

(The entire section is 726 words.)