Stitched up

R.W. Johnson

  • Return to Paradise by Breyten Breytenbach
    Faber, 214 pp, £17.50, November 1993, ISBN 0 571 16989 9

At one point in this book, except that it’s not so much a book as a series of sharp-eyed digressions, Breyten Breytenbach tells the story of his friend Tobe. We’ve already got used to Tobe’s name cropping up in unlikely places in French Africa, or as a character in the dreams, the take-offs into magical realism or the one long drinking bout that make up this book. The notion of a famous literary figure on an inebriated progress across a continent has a certain raffish hilarity to it and once produced a study called Dylan Thomas in America. This book is a sort of ‘Dylan Thomas in Africa’, with the difference that Breytenbach has written this one himself and cares about the continent he’s travelling through and getting drunk in. As he says, to be African is not a choice but a condition and he’s got it. Even worse he’s an Afrikaner: ‘I am of a people who are the mortification of Africa, a people of colonists without a metropolis, with whom nobody wants to share history.’

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