South African anti-apartheid writer André Brink died Feb. 6 at the age of 79. With more than 20 novels, Brink was one of the most famous writers of his time, receiving international attention for criticizing the Afrikaner nationalist movement and his commitment to focusing on the atrocities committed by the apartheid government. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about author André Brink.
Sources: WashingtonPost.com Literature.BritishCouncil.org, TheGuardian.com, IBList.com
Born in the Orange Free State in 1935, Brink was the son of a judicial magistrate and an English teacher. His love of literature and writing came naturally. His mother, an English teacher, encouraged him to study Shakespeare and Dickens from a young age.
In 1952, Brink graduated from Lydenburg High School with seven distinctions. He was the second student from the then-Transvaal region to achieve this accomplishment. South Africa follows an outcomes-based education system. Grades are assigned on a scale of 1 to 7, with a “normal” pass given for average work scoring 50 percent to 59 percent. A distinction — the highest grade possible, is given for an average of 80 percent or more.
After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degree at Potchefstroom University, now a part of North-West University, Brink spent two years in Paris studying at the Sorbonne. He later wrote about this period in his life: “I was born on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, in the early spring of 1960.”
As an Afrikaner himself, Brink described himself as a “cultural schizophrene.” He often criticized his own culture, particularly the leaders of the apartheid government and those who supported their practices.
During the 1960s, Brink, along with fellow authors Ingrid Jonker and Breyten Breytenbach, became leaders of the “Die Sestigers” literary movement, translating to “The Sixty-ers.” The movement represented writers who used Afrikaans to speak out against the apartheid government, and attempted to introduce their language and work to English and French audiences.
Brink’s 1973 novel, “Kennis van di aand,” or “Looking on Darkness,” was the first Afrikaans book banned by the South African apartheid government. Following its banning, Brink translated it into English and published it for an international audience. The novel tells the story of black actor Joseph Malan, who awaits execution for the murder of his white lover.
Following the decision to ban “Kennis van di aand,” Brink was declared an enemy of the state and was put under surveillance. His work was so unpopular with apartheid supporters that a prominent South African Dutch Reformed minister once said, “If this is literature then a brothel is Sunday school.”
While serving his sentence on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela recommended Brink’s work to fellow inmates.
Brink married his first wife, Estelle, in 1960, and they traveled to Paris after he received a scholarship to study at the Sorbonne. He would go on to marry and divorce several more times. He is survived by his sixth wife, fellow writer Karina Magdalena Szczurek, and four children — Anton, Gustav, Danie, and Sonja.
Brink was named many times as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature and it’s possible he may still receive this distinction posthumously. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize. His 1976 book, “An Instant in the Wind,” and his 1978 book, “Rumours of Rain,” got accolades.
Published in 1979, Brink’s “A Dry White Season” told the story of a white South African man who investigates the disappearance of a black acquaintance’s son. In the book, Brink used actual court documents that recorded the brutal tactics of apartheid security forces, so that, he said, “no one could say afterwards, ‘I didn’t know’ – the old sort of Nazi excuse – about the intolerably inhumane way the blacks are treated as a whole.” The novel was made into a film in 1989, starring Marlon Brando and Donald Sutherland. No surprise, the government restricted the release of the film in South Africa.
Following the end of apartheid, Brink continued to be involved in political affairs in South Africa. A 2009 memoir, “A Fork in the Road,” details his disillusionment with the post-apartheid government – particularly corruption and incompetence in the African National Congress following Mandela’s leadership.