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Philida Hardcover – International Edition, September 25, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Eminent white Afrikaans writer Brink tells a story that is rooted in his own familys ancestry and set in the Cape in the early nineteenth century, before the abolition of slavery. Philida is raped by her white farm-master, Cornelis. Later his young son, Frans, has his first sex with her. Unlike his father, Frans loves her and wants to marry her, and she loves him as much as she loves her children. Frans is reluctant to marry the wealthy white girl his family has chosen for him, even if it will save his father from bankruptcy. With alternating present-tense viewpoints, the aching personal drama is set against the history of lechery, power, and violent abuse, the constant beatings, the breeding of slaves for auction, and always, for Philida, the wrenching family separation as she tries to prevent the selling of her children. This stirring novel opens up the horror, seldom addressed, of the oppression long before apartheid was the law. --Hazel Rochman --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"A moving story of one woman's struggle against hierarchies of race and gender that seek her absolute subjugation, Philida vividly dramatises the courage required to lay claim to the protections of the law, to speak out for ones rights even in the moment in which the law is on the wrong side of history" -- Patrick Flannery Daily Telegraph "Playful...and extremely harrowing... But the light and shade that Brink has skilfully introduced into his augmented family history make for a compelling and memorable novel" -- Alex Clark Guardian "Rich and complete... Brink's rich and complex novel, told in the voices of the four main characters and an extrernal narrator, is much more than a horror story. The deep love of the South African countryside shines through, woven together with creation myths and earthy folk tales. Some may find the two elements sit uneasily together, but Brink's confident writing made it work for me" -- Paul Dunn The Times "Brink tells this grand-guignol tale in harrowing style" -- Christopher Bray Daily Express "A poignant tale of a slave woman's quest for liberation set in 19th century Cape Town" Glass Magazine

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846557046
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846557040
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,818,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Live2Cruise VINE VOICE on January 19, 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Set in South Africa in 1832, this is the fictionalized account of one of the author's ancestors, a quick-witted girl named Philida who is a slave to the Brinks on their farm, Zandvliet. Philida has children by her master's son, Francois, who has promised her freedom if she would lie with him. When he reneges on his promise to her, Philida takes matters into her own hands and takes steps to gain control over her own life.

As the story begins, there are changes looming in the foreground: South Africa will be emancipating its slaves within the next couple of years, and the Brinks' precarious financial situation has placed Zandvliet at risk of being lost. It is against this backdrop that Philida struggles to find a better life for herself and her children.

This is a unique novel in many ways; first, it is fascinating to read about the system of slavery in South Africa and to compare it with that in the States. The novel is also told in alternating perspectives: Philida's, Francois's, and Francois's father, the owner of Zandvliet, Cornelius Brink. While it was certainly difficult to strum up any sympathy for Francois or his father, the addition of their perspective brought home how slavery affected the entirety of South Africa society. Novels about slavery frequently show us, of course, the impact on the slaves; what we do not often see is an up-close exploration of how slavery twists the morals and humanity of those who enslave, and the inner turmoil that can ensue. With Francois particularly, the reader can see his inner struggle; on some level he seems to love Philida and to recognize her as a fellow human being, but in others he is a product of his society and views her as property.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From exquisite pain sometimes comes exquisite beauty. Andre Brink tackles a harrowing time in our world history: slavery in South Africa in the 1830s, when brutal thrashings from those who held a Bible in one hand and a whip in the other were commonplace. Yet he tells the tale with such eloquence and lyricism that the reader is caught between loving the words and yet condemning the subject matter.

Philida - the eponymous slave woman - actually worked as a knitting girl on the arm from 1824-1832; her "master" Cornelius Brink is one of Andre Brink's own direct ancestors. That knowledge pervades the tale and grounds it even more in reality. "What happens to me is what others want to happen. I am a piece of knitting that is knitted by somebody else," Philida muses early on.

In this novel though, she is well on her way to becoming her authentic self. The master's son, Frans - a weak-spirited young man - takes a shine to her and they indulge in semi-consensual copulation. Four children are born from this union; one has died under mysterious circumstances and another when she was an infant. When Philada takes steps to demand her promised freedom, Frans publicly disowns their relationship and Philada is sold to another slave-owner in retaliation. And so the story takes off.

Andre Brink is a superb writer. Through shifts of narrative voice and Victorian headings leading into each chapter, he beautifully tells the story of Philida and those who surround her. Man's inhumanity to fellow man - floggings, rape, and most of all, the constant dehumanizing - is rendered so intensely that it brings tears to one's eyes. He writes, "Each one goes on looking for his own shadow that lies trampled into the dust and left to lie there.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brink is a great writer. Technically, he has it all together and his prose is beautiful. But just because an author is a good writer doesn't mean his book is automatically going to be good. While I was impressed by the artistry on display in Philida, I felt the mood of the novel had too much the air of a myth about it instead of being about real people and left me a little cold. I feel like the prose would have benefited by coming down to earth a little more. Don't get me wrong, this is a good book. It just isn't great.
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Format: Paperback
Philida is a riveting tale, taking place in South Africa during the 1830's, right before the slaves received freedom from the U.K. Phileda is a slave girl who lives in Vlandiviliet and has semi-consensual sex with the boss's son, Frans. Together, they produce four children, only two who survive and two who die under mysterious circumstances. Frans is of weak character and is no match for Philida.

The story gets off to its start with Phileda making a formal complaint about her treatment on the farm. It is countered by Frans who states she is lying despite all his prior promises to give her freedom from slavery.

The story mixes brutality, sadism and sexuality together. Though the words are beautiful, the situations are horrific and difficult to read about. We hear about beatings, peelings (where the bottoms of a slaves feet are peeled off to prevent future running away), awful sexual punishments and sadistic reprimands.

Using the bible in one hand and the whip in the other, punishment is given and slaves are killed, hanged or beaten mercilessly.

Philida is nursing her fourth child when the story opens. She has one older child and two that are deceased. She is a woman of strong will and determination, but there is only so much she can do in a land where everything is stacked against her. She is determined to escape her situation but where is she to go and with whom?

The author, A. P. Brink, is a master of words, almost reaching the lyricism of Coetzee, but not quite. This is a brilliant novel - eerie, frightening, terrifying, disgusting and filled with sadistic acts. It is about brutality of man against man and woman against woman. It is the first book I've read by Brink but for sure I will be reading more.
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