Enormously ambitious, dauntingly long and written with a profound knowledge of his country's landscape and people, this latest work by the author of A Dry White Season could qualify as the Great South African Novel. By far Brink's most impressive accomplishment to date, it touches a myriad of bases. Thomas Landman, a young news photographer from an old Boer family, has gradually become caught up in the struggle for racial justice. He has joined an anonymous Organization that performs terrorist acts designed to undermine the apartheid government; at the start of the book he detonates a car bomb that, intended to assassinate a provincial president, kills a number of bystanders. The rest of the narrative is a study of his family, horrified by his act; the police brigadier obsessed with his pursuit and capture; people he meets as he makes his getaway; friends and colleagues in the Organization; and, above all, the two women in his life, Nina and Lisa. The former is a fellow terrorist, the latter, encountered by chance, links her destiny with his. Brink has enormous range: he penetrates with seeming ease a dozen personalities, from poor black schoolteacher to pitiful white army recruit to coldly ambitious judge to sorrowing mother, so that the book is at once a psychological study of a country and an often breathtaking chase thriller. In a novel that aims so high, inevitably there are flaws: the style occasionally becomes ponderous, the personality sketches sometimes reduce the tension, and the people in the Organization are almost inhumanly self-controlled and noble. Still, the thoroughness with which the South African psyche is explored and the high intelligence and empathy with which the nature of terrorism is dissected combine to create a memorable political panorama. Most of the book was clearly written in the height of anti-apartheid passion, and the rather lame closing pages, in which Landman wonders whether all the agony was necessary in view of the current rapprochement, are inevitably anticlimactic. But Brink has risen splendidly to the challenge of a major theme, and his book will stand as a salutary reminder of a terrible time. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992 Release date: 01/01/1992 Genre: Fiction
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