THE RIGHTS OF DESIRE

Andre Brink, Author THE RIGHTS OF DESIREAndré $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-15-100654-0

A December/May romance (ardent on the December side, platonic-but-teasing on the May side) blooms against the backdrop of postapartheid South Africa in Brink's latest offering. Librarian Ruben Olivier, the 65-year-old narrator, was forced into early retirement in Capetown to make way for a black replacement. Violence has personally touched Ruben: Johnny MacFarlane, his neighbor and close friend, was recently murdered. His grown-up children want him to leave the country for his safety; to appease them, Ruben sublets part of his house to 29-year-old Tessa Butler, who is beautiful, untrustworthy, confiding and promiscuous. Also present in Ruben's household are two other women: Magrieta Daniels, Ruben's housekeeper, and Antje of Bengal, a ghost. Magrieta has an implacable sixth sense for the house's odors and order; Ruben can hide nothing from her. Furthermore, Magrieta is on good terms with Antje, who was the slave, lover and accomplice in the murder of her 18th-century owner, Willem Mostert. Brink (A Dry White Season, etc.) has a wonderful time delineating Ruben's character—from his veldt childhood to his discovery of "the deeply satisfying sublimation of travelling through the pages of books" and his unsatisfying marriage. Tessa, on the other hand, remains a stereotypical sex object. A subplot involving Magrieta's neighborhood, from which she is forced to flee when she is accused by a neighborhood gang of being an "impimpi," or police informer, edges the central romance with an ominous hint of violence. Although this isn't Brink's best effort, he remains a consummately professional storyteller, and the voice of his narrator, with its subtle wit and vulnerability, is a welcome one. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/05/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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