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1001 Review: A Dry White Season by André Brink


Bookworm says read this book.

A Dry White Season by André Brink
Published in: 1979:
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★★★]

Synopsis from Goodreads: As startling and powerful as when first published more than two decades ago, André Brink’s classic novel, A Dry White Season, is an unflinching and unforgettable look at racial intolerance, the human condition, and the heavy price of morality.

Ben Du Toit is a white schoolteacher in suburban Johannesburg in a dark time of intolerance and state-sanctioned apartheid. A simple, apolitical man, he believes in the essential fairness of the South African government and its policies—until the sudden arrest and subsequent “suicide” of a black janitor from Du Toit’s school. Haunted by new questions and desperate to believe that the man’s death was a tragic accident, Du Toit undertakes an investigation into the terrible affair—a quest for the truth that will have devastating consequences for the teacher and his family, as it draws him into a lethal morass of lies, corruption, and murder.

Bookworm’s Thoughts: This is a difficult book to read and enjoyed is the wrong word to describe my feelings what I can say is I started this Sunday morning and finished it Sunday evening I would have read it straight through without stopping but the hubby insisted on being fed.

I have seen this book criticised for being a “white” book and yes in my opinion it is a white book but in its defence it is not trying to be anything else. This is a book written by a white South African man with a white South African man protagonist, all the events are seen through the eyes of a white South African man.

The book almost feels like a memoir in the foreword we are told that the story that follows has been pieced together from the writings an old friend has sent to our narrator and we are also told that the old friend has died since sending the papers.  At various points throughout the book the narrator adds his own thoughts and feelings which adds to the memoir style feeling. It also adds an element of unease to the story as the reader knows that the protagonist is going to die we just don’t know how and why.

While the characters did feel 3 dimensional and real to me my one criticism of the book is that the protagonist Ben du Toit does come across as being too good to be true, maybe I have no faith in humanity but a man who is willing to risk everything including his family and his life in the pursuit of the truth does seem unreal in this day and age. That said this is a work of fiction and in fiction we can believe in the everyman who becomes a hero in his own life. It is also this tenacity and the refusal to give up that allows the book to explore the injustices of the law and the way those who refuse to toe the line are treated.

My favourite quotes:

“Ben was shocked by Stanley’s nonchalance “How can you say that? I was hoping all the time – “
“You’re white” As if that summarised everything. “Hope comes easy to you. You’re used to it.”
“Surely that’s got nothing to do with black or white!”
“Don’t be so sure.”

“We can’ win lanie. But we needn’t lose either. What matters is to stick around.”

I wanted to help. Right. I meant it sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond out 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.”    

Who would like this? Personally I think everyone should read this book if I have to be specific if you have an interest in South African history and particularly the injustice of life under the apartheid system read this.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I read it years ago; can’t say I enjoyed it.


    February 21, 2019
  2. Gail #

    I just read it myself. I thought it was very good and a must read for me to understand some of the background regarding South Africa. It makes for an interesting pairing with Cry, the Beloved Country where you have a white author writing about a black main character and Dry White Season where the white author is writing about a white main character.


    February 21, 2019

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