On the Contrary

Andre Brink, Author Little Brown and Company $22.95 (375p) ISBN 978-0-316-10884-3
South African novelist Brink (A Dry White Season ; An Act of Terror ) seems at first to be working a much lighter, more picaresque vein here than in his usual, more overtly political fiction. The narrator is a French-born soldier of fortune, Estienne Barbier, telling of his adventures in the South Africa run by the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century (there was such a person, though Brink wryly admits that most of his story is invented; still, he adds, ``One never knows''). Barbier, sentenced to death for aiding a slave girl's escape and trying to foment a revolt in Capetown, awaits execution. He spins tall tales of his adventures in the scarcely known (to Europeans) continent, and it soon becomes apparent that, like the Don Quixote he constantly evokes, many of his exploits are of the imaginary kind. Driven by a manic search for a legendary lost treasure and for a vanished slave girl, helped in moments of crisis by interior dialogues with the spirit of Joan of Arc, Barbier creates a remarkable picture of the Africa of his time, the marginal existence of the Dutch farmers, the corruption of the civic administration and the near-invisibility of the ``hottentots'' who then, as now, did most of the menial work. In the end, his search becomes one for justice, for himself as well as for the native inhabitants. The book can therefore be read both as an adventure yarn and as a salutary political fable. Coming as it does at a time of enormous change in South Africa, the latter is what lingers most powerfully. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/01/1994
Release date: 08/01/1994
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-4481-1361-3
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