This novel by Andre Brink is the ultimate crossing borders story, telling, as it does, the journey of an upstanding member of the Afrikaans community in South Africa to an activist on behalf of down trodden blacks. The fact that his transformation is accidental makes the story more gripping. Ben Du Toit is a pillar of the community. He is a teacher and church deacon and the sort of person young people turn to for help because they see him as wise and steady.
When a black man known to Ben comes to him for help he finds himself drawn into protests against a system he always thought was fair. The son was beaten by police and Ben is encouraged to help get justice. Yet the law exists for the white man and Ben starts to see how everything is stacked against the blacks. His conscience does not allow him to stay quiet but, in raising questions, he feels the force of displeasure by the regime’s security services. Family, his career as a teacher and his standing in the community are all threatened. The novel shows Ben Du Toit as a man of courage but the cost is high.
I saw the film version many years before reading the book so the images in my head were set by the movie version. The book is more detailed and nuanced, though, so that some of the twists are unexpected and the characters do not always act as I expected. Overall, the book was the more satisfying experience.
Andre Brink, himself, was an activist using the Afrikaans language to raise questions about the apartheid regime. His work was banned many times. It may be a ‘white’ book about race issues but the power comes from the fact that, like his protagonist, Brink would not stay quiet about injustice.
‘A Dry White Season’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?