A Fork in the Road: A Memoir

André Brink

A Fork in the Road: A Memoir

Andre Brink grew up in the deep interior of South Africa, as his magistrate father moved from one dusty dorp to the next. With searing honesty he describes his conflicting experiences of growing up in a world where innocence was always surrounded by violence. From an early age he found in storytelling the means of reconciling the stark contrasts - between religion and play-acting, between the breathless discovery of a girl called Maureen and the merciless beating of a black boy, between a meeting with a dwarf who lived in a hole in the ground and an encounter with a magician who threatened to teach him what he hadn't bargained for. While living in Paris in the sixties his discovery of a wider artistic life, allied to the exhilaration of the student uprising of 1968, confirmed in him the desire to become a writer. At the same time the tragedy of Sharpeville crystallised his growing political awareness and sparked the decision to return home and oppose the apartheid establishment with all his strength. This resulted in years of harassment by the South African secret police, in censorship, and in fractured relationships with many people close to him.Equally it led to extraordinary friendships sealed by meetings with leaders of the ANC in exile in both Africa and Europe. Andre Brink tells the story of a life lived in tumultuous times. His long love affair with music, art, the theatre, literature and sport illuminate this memoir as do relationships with remarkable women, among them the poet Ingrid Jonker, who have shared and shaped his life, and encounters with people like Ariel Dorfman, Anna Netrebko, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Beyers Naude, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Above all, "A Fork in the Road" is a love song to the country where he was born, and where, despite its recent troubles and tragedies, he still lives. 3.5 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
A Fork in the Road: A Memoir

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 448
RRP £17.99
Date of Publication February 2009
ISBN 978-1846552441
Publisher Harvill Secker
 

Andre Brink grew up in the deep interior of South Africa, as his magistrate father moved from one dusty dorp to the next. With searing honesty he describes his conflicting experiences of growing up in a world where innocence was always surrounded by violence. From an early age he found in storytelling the means of reconciling the stark contrasts - between religion and play-acting, between the breathless discovery of a girl called Maureen and the merciless beating of a black boy, between a meeting with a dwarf who lived in a hole in the ground and an encounter with a magician who threatened to teach him what he hadn't bargained for. While living in Paris in the sixties his discovery of a wider artistic life, allied to the exhilaration of the student uprising of 1968, confirmed in him the desire to become a writer. At the same time the tragedy of Sharpeville crystallised his growing political awareness and sparked the decision to return home and oppose the apartheid establishment with all his strength. This resulted in years of harassment by the South African secret police, in censorship, and in fractured relationships with many people close to him.Equally it led to extraordinary friendships sealed by meetings with leaders of the ANC in exile in both Africa and Europe. Andre Brink tells the story of a life lived in tumultuous times. His long love affair with music, art, the theatre, literature and sport illuminate this memoir as do relationships with remarkable women, among them the poet Ingrid Jonker, who have shared and shaped his life, and encounters with people like Ariel Dorfman, Anna Netrebko, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Beyers Naude, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Above all, "A Fork in the Road" is a love song to the country where he was born, and where, despite its recent troubles and tragedies, he still lives.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Gillian Slovo

There is so much in this memoir, much of it personal, and yet it remains oddly impersonal... Among its considerable achievements is an insider’s view of the Afrikan mindset that surpasses any I have so far read, and its chronicling of a discovery of a wider world, the influences that made the novelist and the genesis of his novels. Everything, it seems, except André Brink himself. Perhaps this is deliberate and proof of the message that underscores his work: that it is as much in the unsaid as in the said where meaning lies.

31/01/2009

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The Guardian

Christopher Hope

The tone is elegiac, angry and earnest. No one would say that Brink takes his work, or himself, too lightly... The real kick in this book comes last. After supporting all his life the vision of a better way for all in South Africa, Brink is appalled by what change has brought and he is not afraid to say so... But in the end, faced by having to choose despair or good cheer, Brink quixotically opts for both.

31/01/2009

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The Independent on Sunday

Justin Cartwright

The most shocking of Brink's memories is of appalling mistreatment of black people by the police and friends of the family...Brink's father, the magistrate, was able to turn a blind eye, even though earlier Brink has described his parents as humane Christian people. For many rural Afrikaners, this was the natural order, and Brink's nuanced account of this paradox is masterful... Brink demonstrates a certain provincial insecurity; for guidance and inspiration, he always looks to the heavy hitters of literature: big themes, big names, significant events, litter this book.

08/02/2009

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The Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare

...there are moments when you worry that someone from the South African security services might have sabotaged his sense of scepticism. Meeting Thabo Mbeki’s father, for example, “His interest … in my writing … was astounding.”... But these are forgivable moments in an otherwise passionate and remarkably brave exhumation of loves, hates and friendships.

03/02/2009

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The Times

Michela Wrong

Far too many pages - indeed, chapters - read like the round robins that families send out at Christmas, listing grandchildren's achievements, literary festivals attended, celebrities met... Yet by the end one is still left applauding a kindly, principled iconoclast who played a not-inconsiderable part in the dismantling of one of the nastiest totalitarian systems.

30/01/2009

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The Sunday Times

RW Johnson

...he confesses, that “by temperament I was never a political writer”, yet, in the apartheid context, “I could not write anything that was not political”. The results are obvious as soon as he strays from his personal experiences in judgments that are often ponderous and clichéd. Moreover, there are frequent political and historical slips... for Brink to talk grandly of “my indebtedness to Camus” doesn't sit well in the mouth of a writer who can commit such howlers as calling someone “too unique”, or recording that “she wrote letters to Jack and I”.

08/02/2009

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The Observer

William Leith

Brink is fond of thinking of himself as a heretic, though a cautious one. He remarks that "it is the very presence of authority, the fact of power that evokes rebellion and makes it possible. Without the threat of power the heretic - the one who chooses - cannot exist." This sounds more like existentialism than political awareness, a struggle for identity rather than justice. It's as if Brink opposed the system oedipally, not because it was wrong but because it was there.

08/03/2009

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