Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On the great South African Literary Tradition

Jo Hunter Adams

I'm often asked about the South African authors I like best, and so I want to tell you about my top three favourite South African writers. South Africans who are much more well-read than I, please forgive me (and offer your contributions)! As I thought of my favourite South African authors, it occurred to me that they're all white. Though I've fallen in love with some other great non-South African African writers (Nuruddin Farah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name two), I think it's an interesting commentary on me, and the impacts of apartheid on South African writers.

Antjie Krog is my favourite writer. My feelings for her are a bit like my feelings for Barbara Kingsolver: I wait hopefully for her next book, but she doesn't write quickly enough! Her most recent book came out this year. Krog writes about apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa with a kind of nuance that I find really helpful: where I start to understand the brokenness of our society without feeling paralyzed, and where I can acknowledge and own- in a deep way- the atrocity of apartheid and still assert my South African-ness.

Andre Brink's books are a gut-wrenching read. I used to read them really quickly, and really love the strong emotions the books would evoke. Over the past two years, I donated/sold my library of Andre Brink, because I realized his books actually make me pretty depressed. Depression aside, he offers incredible insight on South African society, human nature, and how we relate to one another.

Like Antjie Krog, Breyten Breytenbach is a poet, writer, painter and anti-apartheid activist. My favourite Breytenback book is "A Season in Paradise". His descriptions of what it is to be outside your country really resonate with me. In many ways his story begins as an artist in Paris who discovers (apparently to his surprise) that his marriage to his Vietnamese wife means that he will be arrested if he returns to South Africa.

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