Philida

André Brink

Philida

This is what it means to be a slave: that everything is decided for you from out there. You just got to listen and do as they tell you. You don't say no. You don't ask questions. You just do what they tell you. But far in the back of your head you think: One day there must come a time when you got to say for yourself: This and that I shall do, this and that I shall not. Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of the slaves. Philida decides to risk her whole life by lodging a complaint against Francois, who has reneged on his promise to set her free. His father has ordered him to marry a white woman from a prominent Cape Town family, and Philida will be sold on to owners in the harsh country up north. Unwilling to accept this fate, Philida continues to test the limits of her freedom, and with the Muslim slave Labyn she sets off on a journey across the great wilderness on the banks of the Gariep River, to the far north of Cape Town. 3.1 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Philida

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardcover
Pages 320
RRP
Date of Publication August 2012
ISBN 978-1846557040
Publisher Harvill Secker
 

This is what it means to be a slave: that everything is decided for you from out there. You just got to listen and do as they tell you. You don't say no. You don't ask questions. You just do what they tell you. But far in the back of your head you think: One day there must come a time when you got to say for yourself: This and that I shall do, this and that I shall not. Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of the slaves. Philida decides to risk her whole life by lodging a complaint against Francois, who has reneged on his promise to set her free. His father has ordered him to marry a white woman from a prominent Cape Town family, and Philida will be sold on to owners in the harsh country up north. Unwilling to accept this fate, Philida continues to test the limits of her freedom, and with the Muslim slave Labyn she sets off on a journey across the great wilderness on the banks of the Gariep River, to the far north of Cape Town.

A Fork in the Road: A Memoir by André Brink.

Reviews

The Daily Express

Christopher Bray

Brink tells this grand-guignol tale in harrowing style. The book’s opening 100 pages or so offer his first successful inhabitation of a genuinely female sensibility. That he inhabits it while also writing in the loose-limbed patois of a 19th-century slave makes the achievement all the more astonishing ... It also makes the second part of the story, in which Philida and her Muslim friend Labyn embark on a rather too obviously Odyssey-inspired trek along the Gariep river, something of an anti-climax.

10/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

Patrick Flanery

A moving story of one woman’s struggle against hierarchies of race and gender that seek her absolute subjugation, Philida vividly dramatises the courage required to lay claim to the protections of the law, to speak out for one’s rights even in the moment in which the law is on the wrong side of history. While this is a familiar story, it is one that must continue to be told, not least by white writers willing, as Brink is, to disinter the histories of complicity buried in their own ancestries.

14/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Alex Clark

It is an impressively nuanced and ambiguous piece of work, and its strength lies in the delicate understanding of subtle shifts in power in the Cape Colony's teetering ecosystem ... the light and shade that Brink has skilfully introduced into his augmented family history make for a compelling and memorable novel.

16/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Times

Paul Dunn

Brink’s rich and complex novel, told in the voices of the four main characters and an external narrator, is much more than a horror story. A deep love of the South African countryside shines through, woven together with creation myths and earthy folk tales.

18/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Independent

Andrew Van Der Vlies

Despite its lyric strengths, its perceptive engagement with a long history of creolisation at the Cape, and its value as a recuperative project, Philida is an uneven novel. Alternative first-person perspectives give way to an occasionally awkward third-person blend of satire and horror. Some of the dialogue is stilted and appears tin-eared.

06/10/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

David Robson

Novelists are under no obligation to write feel-good stories; and in so far as Brink is exhuming a shameful chapter in his family history, one has to salute his courage. But novelists also need to take their readers with them, and Brink largely fails that test. There is a surfeit of the kind of literary tricks – shifts of narrative voice, lapses into pidgin English, pseudo-Victorian chapter headings – that flatter critics but alienate the general reader. You are left feeling that the same story could have been delivered more simply and much more effectively.

23/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Peter Kemp

Recurrent references to tight-knit artistry can’t conceal the fact that Brink gets himself into a hapless ­tangle in this novel. By portraying Philida as a paragon of invulnerable plain-speaking he nullifies any sense of the danger and terror her real-life counterpart must have suffered. Savage thrashings, executions and obscene maltreatments of slaves are regularly mentioned but seem to exist in a different realm from the one in which she dauntlessly overrides menace.

12/08/2012

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore