cover image Reinventing a Continent: Writing and Politics in South Africa 1982-1998

Reinventing a Continent: Writing and Politics in South Africa 1982-1998

Andre Brink. Zoland Books, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-944072-89-9

In essays spanning the turbulent period 1982-97, South African novelist Brink (The Ambassador) explores his country's transformation from racist pariah to multiracial democracy. Brink is primarily concerned here with the role of the writer in an unjust society and the role of literature in combating oppression. He is at his most convincing when discussing concrete events and people. His essay on Afrikaners--""the white tribe of Africa,"" descendants of the Dutch colonists who settled South Africa--is keen and sympathetic, though hardly uncritical. Brink's piece on the freeing of Nelson Mandela conveys the excitement and anticipation of that historical moment. Reflecting on the situation in his troubled homeland leads Brink to ask profound questions: If all power corrupts, as he believes it does, how can a writer marshal the ""power of the word"" in the quest for justice? How do writers who have dedicated their lives and careers to the struggle against apartheid find their voice following its demise? Unfortunately, the caliber of the essays varies widely. Some seem like papers presented at an academic conference, filled with dizzying abstractions (""Violence is the language culture speaks when no other valid articulation is left open to it"") and citations of other works. Nevertheless, Brink provides a thoughtful and humane response to injustice. Several of these pieces were originally published in South Africa and/or in England. (Aug.)