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Breyten Breytenbach Biography

(1939– ), A Season in Paradise, In Africa even the Flies Are Happy, Sinking Ship Blues

south africa poems novel

South African poet, novelist, and painter, born in Bonnievale, Cape Province. In 1961 he settled in Paris, where he married Yolande Ngo Thi Hoong Lien, whose father was finance minister in the government of Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Breytenbach's work as a visual artist and his writing, which began with books of poems in Afrikaans, are much informed by the pain of exile, and acute awareness of world-wide political turbulence. In the early 1970s he visited South Africa on several occasions where his opposition to the apartheid regime was made blatantly clear; his first such visit is described in the ironically titled A Season in Paradise (1973). In 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison under the Terrorism Act. He was finally released in 1981 following representations from the French president François Mitterrand. His prison poems, sombre with apocalyptic dread, are generally considered his finest; a selection, together with prose pieces, has been translated and published as In Africa even the Flies Are Happy (1978). Other works include Sinking Ship Blues (1977), translated from Afrikaans, And Death White as Words (1978), Mouroir: Mirrornotes of a Novel (1984), All One Horse: Fictions and Images (1990, short stories), and Painting in the Eye (1993). His chief works in English are The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (1984), an agonized memoir of his incarceration; and a novel, Memory of Snow and Dust (1989), allusive and complex in its imagery, which examines the conflicts within Breytenbach's own psyche between spiritual yearning and the need to be politically effective. Return to Paradise (1993) records his disillusioned journey through post-apartheid South Africa in 1991.

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