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Afrikaans author Marlene Van Niekerk lived for a time in Triomf, the white working class suburb of western Johannesburg built on the bulldozed rubble of Sophiatown, once one of black South Africa's cultural heartlands. Whilst gardening she kept digging up its remnants, just like one of the characters in her novel Triomf, which excavates the lives of the impoverished poor white culture that superseded it. Sophiatown boasted names like Masekela and Mandela amongst its cultural riches but the Benades family inhabit a far from triumphant world of cheap brandy and coke, kaput cars, irreparable fridges and broken political promises. Mol, Treppie, Pop and Lambert Benades inhabit a crumbling government house that is all they own apart from each other. Mol, abused and ageing, is comforted only by her beloved mongrels, her numbed resilience as forlorn as her buttonless housecoat. Alienat Triomf depicts apartheid racism with an uncompromising exactness that has sometimes been lost in white South African writing in English slanted towards a middle class perspective. As the Benades veer between aggressive passivity and directionless activity Whilst the novel makes no pretences about the ugliness of racism, its radical success lies in the way it starkly realises the hard reality that the Benade s' position as whites gives them few privileges. Van Niekerk tells their story in a bleakly hilariou Although Triomf is a startlingly comic yet salutary reminder of the sustenance racism gives to class inequalities, it stops short of representing the social rehabilitation of South Africa's poor whites. In what is possibly the first truly post-apartheid novel by a white writer deserving the description, Van Niekerk opts wisely to leave the hopes of reconciliation beyond the boundaries of her fictional excavation of the suburbs of truth. Rachel Holmes, AMAZON.CO.UK
Marlene van Niekerk was born in 1954 & grew up in the Caledon district of South Africa's Cape. She studied philosophy, languages & literature at several universities and is now associate professor of Afrikaans & Dutch literature at Stellenbosch University.