André (Philippus) Brink Biography
André Brink comments:
Nationality: South African. Born: Vrede, Orange Free State, 1935. Education: Lydenburg High School; Potchefstroom University, Transvaal, B.A. 1955, M.A. in English 1958, M.A. in Afrikaans and Dutch 1959; the Sorbonne, Paris, 1959-61. Career: Lecturer, 1963-73, senior lecturer, 1974-75, associate professor, 1976-79, and professor, 1980-90, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch Literature, Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Since 1991 professor of English, University of Cape Town. Editor, Sestiger magazine, Pretoria, 1963-65; Standpunte magazine, Cape Town, 1986-87. President, Afrikaans Writers Guild, 1978-80. Awards: Geerligs prize, 1964; CNA award, 1965, 1979, 1983; South African Academy award, for translation, 1970; Médicis étranger prize (France), 1980; Martin Luther King Memorial prize (UK), 1980. D. Litt.: Rhodes University, 1975; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 1985. Chevalier, Legion of Honour (France), 1982; Commander, Order of Arts and Letters (France), 1992. Agent: Ruth Liepman, Maienburgweg 23, Zurich, Switzerland.
Die gebondenes. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1959.
Die eindelose weë. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1960.
Lobola vir die lewe (Dowry for Life). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1962.
Die ambassadeur. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1963; as The Ambassador, Johannesburg, CNA, 1964; London, Faber, 1985; New York, Summit, 1986; as File on a Diplomat, London, Longman, 1967.
Orgie (Orgy). Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Miskien nooit: 'n Somerspel. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Kennis van die aand. Cape Town, Buren, 1973; as Looking on Darkness, London, W.H. Allen, 1974; New York, Morrow, 1975.
An Instant in the Wind. London, W.H. Allen, 1976; New York, Morrow, 1977.
Rumours of Rain. London, W.H. Allen, and New York, Morrow, 1978.
A Dry White Season. London, W.H. Allen, 1979; New York, Morrow, 1980.
A Chain of Voices. London, Faber, and New York, Morrow, 1982.
The Wall of the Plague. London, Faber, 1984; New York, Summit, 1985.
States of Emergency. London, Faber, 1988; New York, Summit, 1989.
An Act of Terror. London, Secker and Warburg, 1991.
The First Life of Adamastor. London, Secker and Warburg, and NewYork, Summit, 1993.
On the Contrary. London, Secker and Warburg, 1993; New York, Little Brown, 1994.
Imaginings of Sand. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1996.
Devil's Valley. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1999.
The Rights of Desire. London, Secker & Warburg, 2000.
Short Stories and Novellas
Die meul teen die hang. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1958.
Rooi, with others. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Oom Kootjie Emmer. Cape Town, Buren, 1973.
'n Emmertjie wyn: 'n versameling dopstories. Cape Town, Saayman& Weber, 1981.
Oom Kootjie Emmer en die nuwe bedeling: 'n stinkstorie. Johannesburg, Taurus, 1983.
Loopdoppies: Nog dopstories. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1984.
Die Eerste lewe van Adamastor. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1988.
Die band om ons harte (The Bond Around Our Hearts). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1959.
Caesar (in verse; produced Stellenbosch, Cape Province, 1965). CapeTown, Nasionale, 1961.
Die beskermengel en ander eenbedrywe (The Guardian Angel andOther One-Act Plays), with others. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1962.
Bagasie (Baggage; includes Die koffer, Die trommel, Die tas ; produced Pretoria, 1965). Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1965.
Elders mooiweer en warm (Elsewhere Fair and Warm; producedBloemfontein, 1969). Cape Town, Malherbe, 1965.
Die verhoor (The Trial; produced Pretoria, 1975). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Die rebelle (The Rebels). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Kinkels innie kabel (Knots in the Cable), adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare. Cape Town, Buren, 1971.
Afrikaners is plesierig (Afrikaners Make Merry). Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1973.
Pavane (produced Pretoria, 1980). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Bobaas van die Boendoe, adapted from Synge's Playboy of the Western World (produced Bloemfontein, 1974). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Die Hamer van die hekse (The Hammer of the Witches). Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1976.
Toiings op die langpad (Toiings on the Long Road). Pretoria, VanSchaik, 1979.
Die bende (The Gang; for children). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1961.
Platsak (Broke; for children). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1962.
Orde en chaos: 'n Studie oor Germanicus en die tragedies van Shakespeare (Order and Chaos: A Study of Germanicus and the Tragedies of Shakespeare). Cape Town, Nasionale, 1962.
Pot-pourri: Sketse uit Parys (Pot-pourri: Sketches from Paris). CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1962.
Die verhaal van Julius Caesar (for children). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1963.
Sempre diritto: Italiaanse reisjoernaal (Sempre diritto: Italian TravelJournal). Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1963.
Olé: Reisboek oor Spanje (Olé: A Travel Book on Spain). CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1965.
Aspekte van die nuwe prosa (Aspects of the New Fiction). Pretoria, Academica, 1967; revised edition, 1969, 1972, 1975.
Parys-Parys: Retoer (Paris-Paris: Return). Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1969.
Midi: Op reis deur Suid-Frankryk (Midi: Travelling Through theSouth of France). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Fado: 'n reis deur Noord-Portugal (Fado: A Journey ThroughNorthern Portugal). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1970.
Die poësie van Breyten Breytenbach (The Poetry of BreytenBreytenbach). Pretoria, Academica, 1971.
Portret van die vrou as 'n meisie (Portrait of Woman as a YoungGirl). Cape Town, Buren, 1973.
Aspekte van die nuwe drama (Aspects of the New Drama). Pretoria, Academica, 1974.
Brandewyn in Suid-Afrika. Cape Town, Buren, 1974; as Brandy in South Africa, 1974.
Dessertwyn in Suid-Afrika. Cape Town, Buren, 1974; as Dessert Wine in South Africa, 1974.
Die Klap van die meul (A Stroke from the Mill). Cape Town, Buren, 1974.
Die Wyn van bowe (The Wine from Up There). Cape Town, Buren, 1974.
Ik ben er geweest: Gesprekken in Zuid-Afrika (I've Been There:Conversations in South Africa), with others. Kampen, Kok, 1974.
Voorlopige rapport: Beskouings oor die Afrikaanse literatuur van sewentig (Preliminary Report: Views on Afrikaans Literature in the 1970s). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1976; Tweede voorlopige rapport (Second Preliminary Report), 1980.
Jan Rabie se 21. Cape Town, Academica, 1977.
Why Literature?/Waarom literatur? Grahamstown, Rhodes University, 1980.
Heildronk uit Wynboer saamgestel deur AB ter viering van die blad se 50ste bestaansjaar. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 1981.
Die fees van die malles. Cape Town, Saayman & Weber, 1981.
Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege. London, Faber, 1983; asWriting in a State of Siege, New York, Summit, 1984.
Literatuur in die strydperk (Literature in the Arena). Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1985.
Editor, Oggendlied: 'n bundel vir Uys Krige op sy verjaardag 4 Februarie 1977. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1977.
Editor, Klein avontuur, by Top Naeff. Pretoria, Academica, 1979.
Editor, with J.M. Coetzee, A Land Apart: A South African Reader. London, Faber, 1986; New York, Viking, 1987.
Translator, Die brug oor die rivier Kwaï, by Pierre Boulle. CapeTown, Tafelberg, 1962.
Translator, Reisigers na die Groot Land, by André Dhôtel. CapeTown, Tafelberg, 1962.
Translator, Die wonderhande, by Joseph Kessel. Cape Town, HAUM, 1962.
Translator, Nuno, die visserseun, by L.N. Lavolle. Cape Town, HAUM, 1962.
Translator, Verhale uit Limousin, by Léonce Bourliaguet. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1963.
Translator, Die slapende berg, by Léonce Bourliaguet. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1963.
Translator, Land van die Farao's, by Leonard Cottrell. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Die bos van Kokelunde, by Michel Rouzé. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Moderato Cantabile, by Marguerite Duras. Cape Town, HAUM, 1963.
Translator, Die goue kruis, by Paul-Jacques Bonzon. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1963.
Translator, Land van die Twee Riviere, by Leonard Cottrell. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1964.
Translator, Volke van Afrika, by C.M. Turnbull. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1964.
Translator, Alice se avonture in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1965.
Translator, Die mooiste verhale uit die Arabiese Nagte. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Die avonture van Don Quixote, retold by James Reeves. Cape Town, HAUM, 1966.
Translator, Ek was Cicero, by Elyesa Bazna. Johannesburg, AfrikaansePers, 1966.
Translator, Koning Babar, by Jean de Brunhoff. Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Die Swerfling, by Colette. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1966.
Translator, Die vindingryke ridder, Don Quijote de la Mancha, byCervantes. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1966.
Translator, Speuder Maigret, Maigret en sy dooie, Maigret en die Lang Derm, and Maigret en die Spook, by Simenon. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 4 vols., 1966-1969.
Translator, Die mooiste sprokies van Moeder Gans, by CharlesPerrault. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, Die eenspaaier, by Ester Wier. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, Die eendstert (Brighton Rock), by Graham Greene. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1967.
Translator, Mary Poppins in Kersieboomlaan, by P.L. Travers. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1967.
Translator, Die Leeu, die heks en die hangkas, by C.S. Lewis. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1967.
Translator, with others, Die groot boek oor ons dieremaats. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, with others, Koning Arthur en sy ridders van die Ronde Tafel. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Die Kinders van Groenkop, by Lucy Boston. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Alice deur die spieël, by Lewis Carroll. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1968.
Translator, Die Botsende rotse, Die Bul in die doolhoof, Die Horing van ivoor, and Die Kop van de gorgoon, by Ian Serraillier. Cape Town, HAUM, 4 vols., 1968.
Translator, Bontnek, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. Cape Town, HAUM, 1968.
Translator, Die Draai van die skroef (The Turn of the Screw), byHenry James. Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers, 1968.
Translator, Die Gelukkige prins en ander sprokies, by Oscar Wilde. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator (into Afrikaans), Richard III, by Shakespeare. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die Gestewelde kat, by Charles Perrault. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die groot golf, by Pearl S. Buck. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1969.
Translator, Die Nagtegaal, by H.C. Andersen. Cape Town, HAUM, 1969.
Translator, Die Terroriste, by Camus. Johannesburg, DramatieseArtistieke en Letterkundige Organisasie, 1970.
Translator, Eskoriaal, by Michel De Ghelderode. Johannesburg, Dramatiese Artistieke en Letterkundige Organisasie, 1971.
Translator, Ballerina, by Nada Ćurčija-Prodanović. Cape Town, Malherbe, 1972.
Translator, Die Seemeeu (The Seagull), by Chekhov. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1972.
Translator, Die Bobaas van die Boendoe (The Playboy of the WesternWorld), by Synge. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1973.
Translator, Jonathan Livingston Seemeeu, by Richard Bach. CapeTown, Malherbe, 1973.
Translator, Hedda Gabler, by Ibsen. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Translator, Die Wind in die wilgers, by Kenneth Grahame. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1974.
Translator, Die Tragedie van Romeo en Juliet, by Shakespeare. CapeTown, Human & Rousseau, 1975.
Translator, Die Tierbrigade, and Nuwe avontuur van die Tierbrigade, by Claude Desailly. Cape Town, Tafelberg, 2 vols., 1978-1979.
Translator, Die Nagtegaal en die roos, by Oscar Wilde. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1980.
Translator, Rot op reis, by Kenneth Grahame. Cape Town, Human &Rousseau, 1981.
Translator, Adam van die pad, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. Cape Town, Human & Rousseau, 1981.
Translator, Klein Duimpie, by Charles Perrault. Cape Town, Human& Rousseau, 1983.
27 April: One Year Later/Een jaar later (editor). Pretoria, SouthAfrica, Queillerie, 1995.
Destabilising Shakespeare. Grahamstown, South Africa, ShakespeareSociety of Southern Africa, 1996.
The Novel: Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino. NewYork, New York University Press, 1998.
Reinventing a Continent: Writing and Politics in South Africa. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zoland Books, 1998.
University of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein; National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown.
Donker Weerlig: Literêre opstelle oor die werk van André P. Brink edited by Jan Senekal, Cape Town, Jutalit, 1988; "The Lives of Adamastor" by Anthony J. Hassall, in International Literature in English edited by Pobert L. Ross, London and Chicago, St. James Press, 1991; Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten, Breytenbach, and J.M. Coetzee by Rosemary Jane Jolly, Athens, Ohio University Press, 1996.
(1996) My early work revealed the influence of existentialism (notably of Camus) and was largely a matter of technical exploration. Ever since a year-long stay in Paris in 1968 a deep awareness of the responsibility of the novelist towards his society has shaped my work: not in the sense of "using" the novel for propaganda purposes, which degrades literature, but as a profound evaluation of social and interpersonal relationships as they affect the individual: the individual doomed to solitude and to more or less futile attempts to break out of this spiritual "apartheid" by trying to touch others—which means that the sexual experience is of primary importance to my characters.
With the dismantling of apartheid there is a new freedom to broaden the scope of my writing and to explore the possibilities of an African magic realism.
* * *
André Brink is an Afrikaner dissident who chose to remain inside the South African apartheid society which he regarded as morally insupportable. His powerful political and historical novels have been translated into 20 languages, while in South Africa he is regarded with a somewhat sceptical eye by writers and academics alike.
Brink is a prodigious, multi-talented literary figure. In addition to plays, travel writing, and critical work, he has written 16 novels and translated a great many works into Afrikaans. Formerly a professor of Afrikaans literature at Rhodes University, he now occupies a chair in English literature at the University of Cape Town. Despite three nominations for the Nobel Prize for literature, Brink is disliked by many Afrikaans writers and critics in South Africa, not so much (or not only) because of his outright moral opposition to apartheid, but for what is regarded as sentimentality and sensationalism in his writing. There is no doubt that Brink's writing is extremely uneven. His novels are almost always flawed in some respect, and they are often overwritten. Also, Brink has a singular penchant for placing gauche and inane statements in the mouths of his characters, while his rendition of sexual experience is often cliché-ridden and tasteless. Yet he has written some of the most powerful stories to emerge in recent South African writing, and he commands impressive narrative skills.
As an emerging Afrikaans novelist in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Brink almost singlehandedly modernised Afrikaans novel-writing. Arguably the most eclectic South African writer at the time, he knocked the conservative Afrikaans literary tradition out of complacency with themes and techniques drawn from writers like Camus, Beckett, Sartre, Nabokov, Henry Miller, Faulkner, Greene, and Durrell. In 1974, the Afrikaner establishment was hit by the sensational news that Brink's Kennis van die aand, later translated into English as Looking on Darkness, had been banned. The banning created a major division between the State and many of the country's Afrikaans writers, and introduced a new era of increasingly vocal dissidence from within the establishment. After a Supreme Court hearing and a further two appeals, the novel was finally unbanned in 1982, but given an age restriction which is impossible to enforce.
For Brink, expulsion from the laager was an important juncture. Capitalising on sudden international fame as South Africa's first Afrikaans writer to be banned under the country's comprehensive 1963 censorship legislation—usually reserved for girlie calendars, Communist publications, and morally and politically perverse writing in English—Brink translated Kennis van die aand into English and became, thenceforth, an international novelist writing in English. He has since produced nine weighty novels, roughly one every two years.
By his own admission Brink remains, in essence, an Afrikaner, but his recent novels are not "translated." Brink maintains that he produces the novels in both languages more or less simultaneously, starting out in Afrikaans, but completing the first "final" draft in English. However, Brink is far more idiomatic and comfortable in Afrikaans, and his English versions sometimes suffer from a certain rigidity of style.
Looking on Darkness is a compelling but uneven novel. As Nadine Gordimer has observed, it suffers from the "defiant exultation and relief" of Brink's first major cry of rebellion. The novel veers recklessly from profound historical reconstruction and metaphoric statement to the slushiest of sexual and emotional scenes. This book tells the story of Joseph Malan, a coloured man and a descendant of slaves who makes good as an actor after winning a grant to study at RADA in London, and who then comes home to launch a full-on cultural assault against apartheid. A passionate love affair with a white (British) woman develops, and Joseph is caught between the impossibility of love across the colour line, and the sinister manoeuvres of the Security Police against his theatre group. In a contrived and somewhat unconvincing denouement, Joseph murders his lover, whereupon the Security Police half kill him in unspeakably brutal fashion. He is sentenced to death, and the narrative is written from the death cell on sheets of paper which (we are asked to believe) Joseph daily flushes down the toilet, so determined is he to escape the scrutiny of his gaolers.
Looking on Darkness sets the pattern for Brink's later novels in several important respects. There is an uncompromising engagement with issues of race and politics, an insistence on exposing the sinister, vicious, and hypocritical elements at the heart of the apartheid system, an ability to rediscover the present in terms of a rich and violent frontier history, and a persistent fictional exploration of sexual love as a framework for a higher form of enquiry into the state of modern existence, subject to the peculiar restraints of apartheid society.
In An Instant in the Wind, Brink's first "English" novel following Looking on Darkness, a runaway slave escorts an eighteenth-century Cape lady back to civilisation after her husband and their party come to grief in an expedition into the interior. The story is a rich investigation into pertinent South African themes, and has a strong romantic appeal, but the love story between the erstwhile slave and the fallen lady constantly verges on a kind of sentiment more appropriate to popular romance fiction.
However, Brink's best talents come to the fore powerfully in his next—arguably his best—novel, Rumours of Rain. Like its successor,A Dry White Season, the novel examines the moral options of a contemporary Afrikaner who is rooted to a potent nationalistic history, but who is vulnerable to the short-comings and hypocrisy of Afrikaner nationalism. Rumours of Rain achieves remarkable depth and complexity, and contains some of Brink's best characterisation.
The narrative inventiveness of Rumours of Rain and A Dry White Season is taken further in Brink's other tour de force, A Chain of Voices. This is a major novel which fictionalises a slave revolt in the early 19th century in the Cape. Brink gives each of his several characters a narrating voice, and out of the overlapping narratives a story of great force and interlocking complexity emerges. Brink's exceptional ability to re-animate the past—especially that of slavery in South Africa—enables him to establish the recurrent motifs of a frontier history in which South Africa remains confined.
True to form, Brink followed up this success with a work which is thoroughly mediocre. The Wall of the Plague is a particularly clumsy attempt at metaphorically associating the Black Death plague of medieval Europe with modern apartheid. The novel degenerates into a lengthy implied debate between three South African expatriates about the merits of exile as opposed to active engagement in the country itself, expressed in terms of black versus white sexual potency (there is a coloured girl in the middle) with a great deal of melodrama and sheer inanity thrown in.
However, Brink's 1988 novel, States of Emergency, shows outstanding novelistic deftness. The "story" consists of "notes" towards a love story set in violence-torn South Africa during the State of Emergency in the 1980s. The story skillfully interweaves public and political emergency with the private emergency of conducting an illicit love affair in the midst of ceaseless violence and upheaval. Despite its brilliance, the novel uneasily mixes metafictional self-consciousness with a series of unexamined illusions—principally the illusion that the novel one reads is not a novel at all but incomplete notes for a novel. In a project where every fictional device is brought to the surface for debate, it seems a massive sleight-of-hand—and contrary to the deconstructive spirit in which the writing takes place—not to examine this, the biggest fictional strategy of all. States of Emergency is further complicated by the juxtaposition of Brink's actual divorce and his liaison with a young woman, and the metafictional "fabrication" of a similar story in the book: a love affair between a professor and a young colleague. As part of a divorce settlement, the novel was embargoed for distribution in South Africa after its publication.
In Imaginings of Sand, Brink tackled a particularly challenging problem for a male writer: portraying the world from a female point of view, in this case through two sisters, Anna and Kristien. Like their creator, they are Afrikaners, and underlying the narrative is a sense that in the "new," post-Apartheid South Africa, the only prevailing ethnic antipathy is toward the descendants of the old Dutch settlers. Devil's Valley offers an intriguing spin on the idea of those settlers by depicting a "lost colony" of sorts, an anti-Shangri-La, of unreconstructed Boers living in a mountain redoubt. They are like the Japanese soldier who struggled on in the jungles of the Philippines for three decades after World War II, only to be "captured" in 1975. Brink's Boers, seen through the eyes of reporter Flip Lochner, show little sign of surrendering to the outside world; yet elements of that world are nonetheless encroaching on their alternate version of reality.
—Leon de Kock
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