Ben Du Toit is an ordinary, decent, harmless man, unremarkable in every way — until his sense of justice is outraged by the death of a man he has known.
His friend died at the hands of the police.
In the beginning it appears a straightforward matter, an unfortunate error that can be explained and put right. But as Ben investigates further, he finds that his curiosity becomes labelled rebellion — and for a rebel there is no way back.
First published: 1979
I’d noticed the name “André Brink” in my parents’ bookcase many times, I think partly because my father owns about eight Brink novels which take up quite some space, but I’d never really payed attention to them. When I was looking for something to read in that giant bookcase, however, my father picked up A Dry White Season (1979) from one of the higher shelves and suggested I’d read it. The blurb sounded pretty interesting, so I started reading, and I was left completely impressed by it.
Before this one, I’d never read a novel about the apartheid regime, and I think this book was a very good place to start. Apartheid is a really tough topic and that’s probably why I didn’t finish this book in a few days. I get really frustrated about racism and all things related to it, so I had to put the book away after a few chapters each time because it was just too gripping sometimes and I’d get myself all worked up.
The intensity of my feelings does show what a strong storyteller Brink is. He builds up the story in a way that really shows Ben’s struggle with everything he is facing. While at first he wants to just look away, thinking the Security Police will know what they’re doing, he has to face the hard facts at some point;
I stood on my knees beside the coffin of a friend. I spoke to a woman mourning in a kitchen the way my own mother might have mourned. I saw a father in search of his son the way I might have tried to find my own. And that mourning and that search had been caused by “my people”.
Ben’s black friend Gordon, one of the most kindhearted people he knew, has been tortured and killed in the name of the search for terrorists, and Ben cannot let that slide. He starts up his own investigation and slowly becomes more and more obsessed with his quest for justice, eventually losing pretty much everything and everyone around him.
Besides the haunting plot, that left me feeling quite helpless, the prose in this novel is exquisite as well. Brink uses wonderful metaphors and one of the more elaborate metaphors struck me as being especially beautiful:
The image that presents itself is one of water. A drop held back by its own inertia for one last moment, though swollen of its own weight, before it irrevocably falls; or the surface tension which prevents water from spilling over the edge of a glass even though it may already bulge past the rim – as if the water, already sensing its own imminent fall, continues to cling, against the pull of gravity, to its precarious stability, trying to prolong it as much as possible. The change of state does not come easily or naturally; there are internal obstacles to overcome.
Despite the grim topic, Brink manages to maintain a very elegant style of writing. Those two components complement each other beautifully. I highly recommend reading A Dry White Season to everyone who wants to read a novel about the apartheid, or who feels like reading a very powerful and well written novel.