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Andre Brink: A dry white season

7 February 2015

A Dry White SeasonA Dry White Season by André Brink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book 34 years ago, but with the death of Andre Brink it’s perhaps time to write a review of it. I will, however, have to write it from memory, because I lent my copy of the book to someone soon after I’d read it and never got it back.

The great merit of this book is that it tells it like it was.

It is an absolutely true-to-life story set in South Africa of the late 1970s. It is told from the point of view of an Afrikaner school teacher who gradually discovers what lies just under the surface, of society, which at first he can’t believe. He thinks there must be some mistake, this sort of thing can’t happen. But as he gets drawn in he discovers that such things not only can happen, but they do. And eventually they not only hasppen to other people, they happen to him.

In a way it is a South African version of Franz Kafka‘s The trial, though without the surreal element. Brink writes soberly, without exaggeration, without hype, but it is absolutely authentic. This is how it was. The incidents it describes are not factual, but they are utterly truthful.

A film was made of it, but because it was filmed in the time of apartheid, it is as inauthentic as the book is authentic, because it was filmed in Zimbabwe.

I think that is one film that really does deserve a remake, in a South African setting, with South African actors. Some remakes I’ve seen, like The taking of Pelham 1 2 3, or The flight of the Phoenix were unnecessary, and no better and in some ways worse than the originals. But this one cries out for a remake.

One of the problems with the film of A dry white season is that it was set in an English-style private prep school, where the kids wore English school caps, and the setting was horribly unlike an Afrikaans high school, and so missed the point. When I read the book I pictured the kids in the brown and gold blazers of Helpmekaar Hoerskool. I’m not sure what Andre Brink pictured when he was writing it, but Helpmekaar would have been an authentic seeting.

It will perhaps be more difficult to find an authentic black township nowadays, as many of the locations are very different from what they were like in the 1970s, so it needs someone to do it soon.

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