Communicating with Agaat

Nicole Devarenne

  • Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk
    Tafelberg, 718 pp, R 250.00, August 2004, ISBN 0 624 04206 5
  • A Change of Tongue by Antjie Krog
    Random House (South Africa), 376 pp, R 182.95, September 2003, ISBN 0 9584468 4 9
  • Die Onsigbares by E.K.M. Dido
    Kwela, 223 pp, R 110.00, August 2003, ISBN 0 7957 0158 6

Ten years ago, Marlene van Niekerk published a novel that broke radically with the tradition of Afrikaans writing. Triomf, a grotesque family drama set in a poor white Afrikaner community, part Freudian romance, part political satire, was written in a slangy, polluted Afrikaans intended to infuriate linguistic purists. It showed white supremacist and Afrikaner nationalist ideology as leading logically to incest and inbreeding, and portrayed unflinchingly the mistreatment of its female protagonist, Mol, linking her abuse to white supremacy, with its commitment to the authority of white men, and its policing of white women’s sexuality in the service of so-called ‘racial purity’. The novel was heavily, almost ponderously symbolic, and resisted the aestheticising to be found in much Afrikaans writing, with its sentimental attachment to land and language, and reductive tendency to eroticise the female body and treat it as a site for interracial rapprochement.

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