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Return to Paradise (Harvest Book)by Breyten Breytenbach
Synopses & Reviews
Breyten Breytenbach is one of South Africa's foremost but for years he has had a complex and painful relationship with his home country. In 1973, after thirteen years in exile, he was permitted a three-month visit there. A Season in Paradise, the first part of his triptych about South Africa, is an account of that bittersweet trip: A spiritual journey, an earthly travelog, a poet's chronicle of his soul, the mythic biography of a country, an exotic picture album, a revolutionary treatise, a wrenching lament for a dying species, the book is all of these (Andrei Codrescu).
In 1975, Breytenbach returned to South Africa illegally. He was arrested, tried for terrorism, and served seven years in prison, two of them in solitary confinement. On his release, he recounted his harrowing experiences in The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist: It is a reasonable metaphor to describe this book as an explosive device ticking away at the very foundations of the idea of a white nationalism in Africa (The New York Times Book Review, front page).
In 1991, after Nelson Mandela had been freed and the ban on the African National Congress (ANe had been lifted, Breytenbach returned to South Africa for yet another three-month-long foray. For his account of that third trip, Return to Paradise, he was awarded the prestigious Alan Paton Prize.
In 1975, Breyten Breytenbach, a young Afrikaner poet, painter, and ANC activist in exile, made a secret visit to his native South Africa. He was arrested, charged with treason, and imprisoned for seven years. Much has changed since those days: Nelson Mandela has been released, apartheid is on its way out, F. W. de Klerk has set in motion multiracial rule, and Breytenbach, the young rebel, has become one of his country's most respected figures, an insider-outsider with a unique view of South Africa and Africa as a whole. In rich, vivid, evocative prose Breytenbach captures Africa: primitive huts alongside modern airports; the constant migrations of peoples; the ethereal beauty of the land. We travel with him from town to town, from Kwamandlangampisi and Houtenbeck to Goshen and Atlantis. We hear jazz in Capetown and hippopotami oomphing in pools, we see cardboard slums for blacks and exquisite white suburbs - cool houses with luxuriant gardens behind security walls topped with broken glass. We read of principals chased from classrooms by their students, and police confiscating cameras; we pass paw-paw trees, avocado orchards, and the blackened ruins of schools and huts; we learn ancient fables and folk superstitions, and always reflect on politics. This is a poet's experience of Africa, at once unsparing and elegiac.
South Africa heads toward majority rule, yet Breytenbach is far from optimistic about its future. He sees a civil war raging and the land awash in blood. "[This] book...is fueled by the sort of rage that produces great literature" (Washington Post). A New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Awarded the Alan Paton Prize.
About the Author
BREYTEN BREYTENBACH was born in Bonnievale, South Africa, and currently divides his time between France, Spain, Senegal, and New York City. He teaches in the Creative Writing Department at New York University.
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