Ebookwormy's Reviews > A Dry White Season

A Dry White Season by André Brink
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Mar 27, 09

bookshelves: world-africa, mystery, fiction, drama
Recommended to Ebookwormy by: David van Vuuren
Read in March, 2009

This is a well written mystery that unfolds page by page. It is enticing reading. I found it best to arrange my observations numerically.

1) It is possible to live in an oppressive society and not come to terms with it. This is willful to differing degrees, depending on the information to which people were exposed. The whites living in apartheid, who benefited from the system, didn't want to acknowledge the horrors of the oppression upon which their position in society was built. Most simply didn't concern themselves with the affairs of the black population. And when exposed to injustice, they chose to look the other way. In this way, the system became self-reinforcing. If something went well for a black person or community, whites took credit that the government was providing them with benefits. If something went wrong for a black person or community, whites took it as justification for the apartheid system (they need it, deserve it, must have done something wrong, etc.).

I think the same may be true in oppressive regimes that promote the illusion of openness. China is a good example. As long as you don't take any interest in religion, you might not know you do not have religious freedom. And, if you follow the normal course of life and join the party (maybe it's "not a big deal" to you) you are further insulated from the oppression of people who chose to oppose the system.

2) But, Brink has not give us a sterilized world. The same concept is at work on the black side of the fence. I appreciated the tension Du Toit experiences from BOTH sides, white who oppose his questioning of the 'system' and feel threatened by blacks, but also blacks who see all whites as enemies and cannot accept him. I have copied a quote about this identification tension into my quotes, as being white myself it is challenging to understand the hostility from the other side when you know you are also against the same injustice and for the same ideals. This quote really made me think about the cultural ramifications of relationships between the oppressed and the oppressors - even when individuals of the oppressing class are trying to intervene to make a change. When I get a chance to type it out, I will add this passage to my quotes.

3) Our decisions shape our life, one step at a time. The author does a masterful job of showing how Ben du Toit's life slowly shifts center from his family to his advocacy and investigation on behalf of the black community. The preliminary passages also show how his life/ relationships were vulnerable to this exploitation long before the crises came along. While the author makes Du Toit's actions understandable to us, I certainly don't agree with all his choices. Nonetheless, i liked the way the reader experiences the tightening of the net by the government around Du Toit, and how options/ relationships/ privacy etc. are eliminated. I also appreciated the sense of disconnect, the wondering, is this really the truth? They are all after him? or has he been so traumatized by the government's censure of him that he is seeing monsters in his closet?

3) The author successfully draws the reader into the fundamental choice: If you saw injustice would you stand up, even if it might cost you. And if you are willing to stand up and pay the price, is there a limit to your commitment? I can imagine the power of this novel would be utterly convicting to someone involved with apartheid, and a fearful thing for the government that censored the book. I also found myself uncomfortable with the question of how far would I be willing to go to stand up for the oppressed. Given, du Toit's relationships seem to lack the depth of my family connections, but one cannot merely excuse the question with a "my situation is different" evasion.

4) I had to return to this review a couple weeks after I first wrote it to add this point. I continue to ponder the idea that we are essentially alone in our journey through life. Brink develops this idea throughout the novel by showing how individual characters only reveal portions of their life and experience to each other. When individuals are together, their experience is shared and intertwined, yet each interprets this interaction through their own lens. When characters are apart they are cut off from a true shared experience. Brink also develops how life experience prior to meeting a character impacts their perceptions and actions. This is a powerful concept that I find myself returning to often. I also want to type in a quote from the book about this topic.

In the end, while i enjoyed this read, was glad I read it, and recognize it will stick with me a long time, I could only give it four stars. The adultery itself wasn't the problem for me, it is accurate that these things happen. However, some of the passages are very sensual, very graphic. And some of the language unacceptable (...taking the Lord's name in vain, and swearing, specifically the F-bomb). These passages are sprinkled throughout and not overwhelming. I understand the writer's intention to maintain the novel's gritty feel via this language, but it detracted from the overall experience and would inhibit me when considering either recommending or re-reading it. This is a mature reading experience and I would not recommend this book for young people. Nonetheless, it is a valuable read and I would recommend it to adults, particularly those interested in the mystery genre, as well as the topics of ethics, fighting injustice, government or South Africa.


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Quotes Ebookwormy Liked

André Brink
“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn't think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn't they understand? Had everything I'd gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not -- and that would only serve to confirm my impotence -- I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I'm hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, whit all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity -- or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…
They live on. We, the fathers, have lost.”
André Brink, A Dry White Season

“How dare I presume to say: He is my friend, or even, more cautiously, I think I know him? At the very most we are like two strangers meeting in the white wintry veld and sitting down together for a while to smoke a pipe before proceeding on their separate ways. No more.

Alone. Alone to the very end. I… every one of us. But to have been granted the grace of meeting and touching so fleetingly: is that not the most awesome and wonderful thing one can hope for in this world?”
Andre P. Brink, A Dry White Season


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message 1: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel Great review, hope I get a chance to read it!


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