by Andre Brink 5 Feb 2013
This is what it is 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 at the back of your head you think: Soon there must come a day when I can say for myself: This and that I shall do, this and that I shall not.
André Brink - "one of South Africa's greatest novelists" (The Telegraph) - gives us his most powerful novel yet; the truly unforgettable story of a female slave, and her fierce determination to survive and to be free.
It is 1832 in South Africa, the year before slavery is abolished and the slaves are emancipated. Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. When Francois's father orders him to marry a woman from a prominent Cape Town family, Francois reneges on his promise to give Philida her freedom, threatening instead to sell her to new owners in the harsh country up north.
Here is the remarkable story - based on individuals connected to the author's family - of a fiercely independent woman who will settle for nothing and for no one. Unwilling to accept the future that lies ahead of her, Philida continues to test the limits and lodges a complaint against the Brink family. Then she sets off on a journey - from the southernmost reaches of the Cape, across a great wilderness, to the far north of the country - in order to reclaim her soul.
"Starred Review. An impossible love story... There is an astonishing frankness about the facts of life and a visionary lyricism in relation to these cruel facts. The "Acknowledgements" section details the genesis of the novel. In its way, it is as thrilling as the book itself. Extraordinary." - Kirkus
"...a nuanced book of twists and turns, and Brink manages to generate sympathy for his ancestors, although not much (not that they deserve a lot). For readers with lots of patience and a willingness to be interested in the time, place, theme, and so on. - Library Journal
"In the hands of Mr. Brink, one of South Africa's most famous novelists, the land breathes; it feels alive...They are characters of long ago and far away. But such ghosts forever loom, and Mr. Brink pulls them close." - The Economist
"[Philida] combines an unflinching examination of the cruelties inflicted on the African people by their Afrikaner masters with an attempt to give voice to the tradition that sustained them ... [A] rich and complex novel ... A deep love of the South African countryside shines through, woven together with creation myths and earthy folk tales." - The Times (UK)
"Philida is a very powerful novel, and its graphic accounts ... [offer] an eloquent indictment of racial and economic oppression." - The Daily Mail (UK)
"A moving story...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." - The Daily Telegraph (UK)
"There is much, particularly relating to the separation of women slaves from their children, and to the punishments meted out to runaway slaves, that is extremely harrowing. But the light and shade that Brink has skillfully introduced into his augmented family history make for a compelling and memorable novel." - The Guardian (UK)
"As much a biography and autobiography as it is a novel ... Brink tells this grand-guignol tale in harrowing style ... [A] successful inhabitation of a genuinely female sensibility. That [Brink] inhabits it while also writing in the loose-limbed patois of a 19th-century slave makes the achievement all the more astonishing." - The Daily Express (UK)
André Brink is the author of numerous novels, including A Dry White Season, Imaginings of Sand, The Rights of Desire and The Other Side of Silence. He has won South Africa's most important literary prize, the CNA Award, three times and has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.