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Philida Hardcover – International Edition, September 25, 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
thin story line- not very sophisticated language. However a good incite into slavery on the plantations. a fast read.Published 20 months ago by renee m bradley
Worth aread for those interested in early South African history. Also those just after a gripping story on humanity.Published 22 months ago by Karel Vlok
Full disclosure: I received this book for free through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review. Read morePublished on November 7, 2013 by KH1
I have read many books regarding slavery but this one disappointed me greatly. Instead of writing descriptions of unnecessary instances, could have described how she was feeling.Published on October 28, 2013 by Mary Reiter
I really, really liked this book. I didn't know much about South African slavery before this, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn. Read morePublished on October 26, 2013 by OAT