Free at last

Acclaimed South African novelist Andre Brink has found recent political events in his homeland a liberating experience, as Ann Donald discovers.

‘And then came an elephant and blew the story away.’ This simple. magical sentence has its roots in old African storytelling. It's also a fable that esteemed South African author Andre Brink falls back on again and again in his latest and twelfth novel [magi/tings ()f'Su/rrl.

Most readers have come to expect the work of Brink. and his compatriot Doris l.essing. to he inexorably bound to their country's traumatic political situation. The relationship between author and society: the state of exile and the subsequent return to the homeland and apartheid have all inevitably been under the literary microscope. However. with this. his first post-apartheid novel. Brink has pursued a rich seam of writing that has loomed hazily since early 80s novels like ()n The (.‘mrrrury and The First Life (If/trim” ~ the spellbinding treasure trove of African fables.

In Inmginirrgs ()fSuml. a yotrng South African exile Kristien returns to care for her dying grandmother ()uma. who in turn is determined to unhurden herself of a tumultuous family history that constantly shifts from the surreal to the real in a hat of her ancient eyelid. This crucial figure is the catalyst that gels together the powerfully strong female geneological family line. stretching from the early pioneers to the present day. in tales that dance and sing in a

."1 5'

Andre Brink: mining a rich African storytelling tradition

beautifully textured novel bursting with myth. legend and magic.

Brink confesses the novel was an incrediny freeing experience. ‘I felt a real sense ofdis‘ctwery and opening up because I could write what I wanted without having to think about any priorities or urgencies.‘ he says. referring to the South African political situation. ‘I never wrote anything [under]

outside pressure.‘ he qualifies: 'But life was just so restricted and narrow. these hundreds of stories in the

' her whispery folklore to Kristien. She replies: ‘l‘nr 3 giving her back her tnemory.‘ recognising that

until she know s her past cannot form fully without the collective memory. In ' much the same way Brink is using ls'r'istien's

sittration as a metaphor for the larger history of his


Seeker um/ lliir/rurg (ll 175.09.

oral .-\frican tradition that I‘d been aware of for so long lust had to be placed on the lurckburner In lact. with this novel I itrst scratched the surface. so 1 can't wait to pltrnge in again.‘

That is not to my that Brink ltas wholelreartedly embraced the llans ('hristian ,>\nder.sen genre Rather. he has integrated the storytelling thread into a vivid. trncornprorrrising panorama of a nation's political experience in the resolutionar'y week leading ttb to the South African elections of l‘N-l. The author‘s use of the oral tradition is not purely to provide vibrancy and an arrursing det. iation from the political backdrop. btrt rather to cornplirrrent. augment and weld both strands

l’ivotal to this is a section of the novel w hen the

‘lt is wonderful to be elated about what has changed in the elections of 1994 and to think about the future. . . but I don’t think you can be prepared for that unless you know where your

roots are.’

dying ()uma is asked why she insists on imparting

Kristien cannot move forward in her personal life the personal memory

‘lt is wonderful to be elated about what has changed in the elections of l‘N-l and to think about the future and rush headlong towards it. but ldorr't think one can be prepared for that unless you know where your roots are and where you come from and all the dark things that lie in the past.’ he says.

[rung/Hines ()f .X'u/Ir/ /2.\' Andre Brink is published by


Memoirs of a boot-boy

lngo Nasselback was one of the dozen or so ringleaders of the German neo- Nazi expansion after 1989. Like several of the others, he is an ambiguous figure: thoughtful boot-boy, dittident race-attacker, aggressive intellectual.

While by no means the Fiihrer of the movement (that honour went to Michael Kiihnen, whose death from Aids in 1989 split his acolytes), Nasselbach’s public rejection of the nee-Nazi creed denied the extreme right of one of its most charismatic tlgures.

In his self-portrait Fuhrer-Ex,

brutal stepfather.

Nazi no more: lngo Hasselbach i

Hasselbach admits his violent youth in East Berlin but carefully distances himself from the fanatical excesses of the Austrian Gottfried Kiissel and others. In fact, Hasselbach presents his Nazi years as a kind of madness induced by the ‘slime’ of East German totalitarianism and the beatings of a

Hasselbach’s account of his growing political education is fascinating. Like many in the movement, he was emotionally prepared for neo-Nazism’s nihilism and resentments long before he found ideological justification for them. Ne found the latter first in his imprisonments in the east when he met old Nazis, and then, in full force, when he escaped to the west - a farcical three days before the Berlin Wall started coming down.

Indoctrinated by the western neo- Nazis and the endless Holocaust denial literature distributed from Lincoln, Nebraska, Hasselbach became a proponent of Jew-hatred

and world domination. The unspeakable lie that Auschwitz— Birkenau and Treblinka were just labour camps conveniently removed the impediment to their dreamed-of Fourth Reich.

Neo-Nazis are impervious to truth; Ingo Hasselbach’s memoir, showing that he is an exception to this rule is gripping, even moving. However, it is hard to resist the idea that he has swapped one type of celebrity the handsome heretic for another in his new career giving lecture tours in America.

Even so, his insider reports of how, for example, the German police would supportiver stand back as the neo- Nazis bombed immigrant shelters need to be heard. (Mark Cousins)

Mark Cousins is director of the Drambuie Edinburgh International Film Festival

Fiihrer-Ex by Inga Hasselbach with Tom Heiss, is published by Cha rm and i Windus at £10.99.

The List 23 I‘eb 7 Mar NW) 87