André Brink Philida
I think I first discovered André Brink when I picked up a paperback of An Instant in the Wind. I have been reading him ever since. I think that A Dry White Season was also a Booker List selection. In Philida we are back in South Africa but in unfamiliar territory, for this novel has risen from André Brink’s research into members of his own family.
On November 17, 1832 after a long walk through the bush, Philida, a black slave girl, arrives at the Drostdy (which I assume is an administrative centre) to make a complaint against her employers, the Brink family, specifically against Francois Gerhard Jacob Brink, with whom she has had regular sexual congress, and has given birth to four children of his children (two of whom have died) and who has been promised her freedom. She has recently learned that they intend to sell her.
The consequences of her action and the utter helplessness of her situation are the driving force of this narrative. How she arrived at the Brink’s farm as a knitting girl; in what circumstances her powerful protector Ouma Nella lives and Ouma Nella’s own background, all are slowly revealed. This is a book about slaves and about masters, but it told in a way that delivers a true picture of the terrible predicament that pertained to both sides. The dreadful consequences of a system that threatened the humanity of the slave owning masters and mistresses and that delivered the slaves into an unpredictable and dependent situation about which they could do little. A complaint, if not upheld, meant severe punishment and probably dismissal – sale at an auction being the likeliest outcome.
This book forensically exposes the horrors for the slaves and the unspeakable cruelties meted out to the disobedient or disobliging, but at the same time demonstrates also the weaknesses in the system which relied so totally upon forced labour. The underlying tensions which suddenly erupt and scatter the certainties as much among the slaves as amongst their masters.