André Philippus Brink (b. 1935—d. 2015) is acclaimed as one of South Africa’s foremost writers. Internationally renowned novelist, playwright, scholar, critic, translator, travel writer, and editor, Brink was prolific and his oeuvre monumental: some twenty-six novels, many of them translated into thirty-five languages, more than fourteen original plays, in addition to adaptations and translations, travelogue, and volumes of scholarly and critical materials. His reputation is equally peerless as an internationally celebrated commentator on the aberrations and enormities of the apartheid state. Born the eldest child of a magistrate father and schoolteacher mother in Vrede in the Orange Free State on 29 May 1935, Brink graduated from the Calvinist Potchefstroom University in South Africa, where he earned an MA in Afrikaans in 1958, and another MA in English in 1959. His postgraduate studies in comparative literature at the Sorbonne, University of Paris, between 1959 and 1961, and his experience of greater personal freedom in France, away from his typically conservative Afrikaner clan, transformed his writing and his outlook on life. Brink, who emerged as a writer as a prominent member of the Sestigers—writers of the 60s—came under the influence of trends in metropolitan European literature in France. However, the political turning point in Brink’s writing career was 1974: his novel Kennis van die Aand (1973) became the first Afrikaans work to be banned in South Africa. Brink’s consequent translation of the novel into English and his discovery of an international audience began a fascinating tradition of part self-translation and part self-rewriting that became a feature of virtually his entire oeuvre thenceforth. It also accounted for the twofold fixation of his writing: his abiding concern with South African history and politics and the existential human situation. Persecuted by the apartheid establishment, and vilified by nationalist Afrikaner intellectuals, Brink was nonetheless a recipient of many literary prizes, local and international: Reina Prinsen Geerlings Prize, 1964; Central News Agency award for English literature, for Rumours of Rain, 1978; Martin Luther King Memorial Prize and Prix Medicis Etranger, both in 1980, for A Dry White Season. He was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Brink’s dynamism as a commentator on the South African state is highlighted by his sensitivity to the historical mutations of the enclave, necessitating a gamut of aesthetic responses whose trajectory is a movement from social realism to postmodernism. Brink apparently suffered an aneurism on 6 February 2015 over Brazzaville on a flight from Europe to South Africa, doubtlessly an emblematic way to die for a writer who visualized his entire life as a symbolic crossing of frontiers and saw the negotiation of the cultural and intellectual distance between Europe and Africa as the core of his life-long endeavor (Elnadi and Rifaat 1993, cited under Interviews). This article seeks to chart a critical pathway to an understanding of Brink’s scholarly heritage by identifying and illuminating representative and signal sources.
Compared with Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee, with whom he is usually ranked as South Africa’s preeminent writers, Brink has attracted much less scholarship. There is as yet neither a full-length monograph devoted entirely to his work nor a biography on him. There are only two special issues of journals devoted to Brink’s writing—one in Afrikaans and the other bilingual, Afrikaans and English—and only two volumes of edited essays—Senekal 1988 and Burger and Szczurek 2013 (both cited under Essay Collections)—the earlier exclusively in Afrikaans, and the later, a critical anthology of selected previously published articles in English and Afrikaans, issued only recently. Reference book entries thus remain crucial for general overviews of Brink’s writing. Ross 1982 provides an outline of Brink’s writing until A Chain of Voices (in the novel genre) and insightful interview excerpts that highlight each novel’s background. Findlay 1984, a paper presented at the Second Nordic Conference for English Studies in 1983, provides a methodical review of Brink’s fiction up to A Chain of Voices. (Its place of presentation, incidentally, underscores the cultural component of Nordic participation in the anti-apartheid struggle.) De Kock 1986 offers a chastened overview of Brink’s work up to The Wall of the Plague. Hassall 1991 gives an illuminating account of Brink’s background and education as well as engaging reviews of his prose oeuvre up to States of Emergency. There have also been at least two high-quality comparative book-length studies of Brink and his fellow South African writers, the Nobel laureate, J. M. Coetzee, and Breyten Breytenbach: Jolly 1996 and Kossew 1996 (both cited under Comparative Studies). Kossew’s discussion of the novels, from Looking on Darkness to On the Contrary, makes it a crucial reading for every Brink scholar, and her detailed examination of the implication of a postcolonial reading of Brink’s work is invaluable introductory material on postcolonial theory. Burger and Szczurek 2013 is arguably the leading critical book source on Brink’s work and Meintjes’s contribution to the volume (Meintjes 2013), first published in 1996 but updated in 1998 and 2009, is arguably the most detailed overview of Brink’s work yet published.
Findlay, Allan. “André Brink and the Challenge from within South Africa.” In Proceedings from the Second Nordic Conference for English. Edited by Hakan Ringbom and Matti Rissananen, 581–590. Åbo, Finland: Abo Akademi Foundation, 1984.
An insightful chronological overview of Brink’s fiction up to A Chain of Voices, carefully outlining Brink’s abiding themes and style, and stressing his explicit political purpose and the presiding topicality of his work. Findlay nonetheless emphasizes the imaginative component of Brink’s engagement with South African history and politics.
Hassall, Anthony J. “André Brink.” In International Literature in English. Edited by Robert L. Ross, 181–192. Chicago: St James, 1991.
A very informed overview of Brink’s life and work up to States of Emergency. It underscores the impact on Brink’s writing of his encounter with modern European literature in Paris and includes a useful annotated bibliography of the representative scholarship on Brink up to the time of its publication.
Kock, Leon de. “Brink, André (Philipus).” In Contemporary Novelists. Edited by D. K. Kirkpatrick, 133–136. London: St. James, 1986.
Provides insightful biographical data of Brink as well as a sober appraisal of his career as a novelist up to The Wall of the Plague. Its highlight is a comprehensive list of all Brink’s writings including his novels, short story collections, plays, children’s and travel writings, critical work, and translations until 1985.
Kossew, Sue. “Brink, André Philippus.” In Encyclopedia of African Literature. Edited by Simon Gikandi, 79–82. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
A lucid account of Brink’s background that traces his political as well as the existentialist content of his writing to his sojourning in France for postgraduate studies. Kossew’s discussion of the novels up to Rights of Desire emphasizes their political context and shows Brink’s fixation with the interface between history and fiction/myth in his later writing.
Meintjes, Godfrey. “André Brink’s Prose Oeuvre: An Overview.” In Contrary: Critical Responses to the Novels of André Brink. Edited by Willie Burger and Magdalena Szczurek, 37–95. Pretoria, South Africa: Protea Book House, 2013.
Provides what is arguably the most detailed and insightful overview of Brink’s prose oeuvre, beginning from his earliest Afrikaans novel, Die meul teen die hang (1958), to his twenty-third, Praying Mantis (2005). This version combines three versions published between 1996 and 2009, notes important influences, and identifies four signal phases. Essential reading.
Obumselu, Ben. “André Brink: A Historian of the South African Liberation.” African Commentary: A Journal of People of African Descent (1990): 56–58.
Particularly perceptive review of the novels from An Instant in the Wind to A Chain of Voices. It locates Brink’s fiction not only in contemporary South African history and politics but also in the longer history of the human struggle for freedom and the history of the novel itself.
Ross, Jean W. “André Brink.” In Contemporary Authors. Vol. 104. Edited by Frances C. Locher, 54–59. Detroit: Gale, 1982.
Provides an outline of Brink’s career up to A Chain of Voices and highlights his other kinds of writing. The highlights are excerpts of a very revealing interview, offering insightful backgrounds to the novels.
Willemse, Hein. “André P. Brink se bevrydende woord en dissidensie.” Tydskrif vir Letterkunde 52.2 (2015): 210–214.
A brief but insightful paper offered as an obituary on Brink’s death, tracing the development of his “liberating word and dissidence” from his early experimental novels to his consciously political works. Comments on his exploration of local landscapes, reinterpretations of history in his historical novels, and importance as an Afrikaner dissident. Afrikaans text.
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