A Fork in the Road: A Memoir, By André Brink

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The Independent Culture

André Brink's account of his upbringing in South Africa, his student years in Paris and his subsequent writing career, is a hymn to various moments in his life that have changed him, from an extramarital affair to his discovery of Beckett. All of these moments add up to the love story he wants to tell: not of the love for a woman, or for his children, but for the complex, contradictory, often hateful land of his birth.

It is almost impossible to read the last page of this impassioned, self-critical, open memoir and not be moved to tears when Brink writes about "what Nelson Mandela meant when he told me, on that last morning I spent with him, You are an African".

Many of the early stories – of Brink's magistrate father's coolness towards an injured black man who had gone to him seeking reparation, or of friendly neighbours enjoying beating children almost to death – are devastating to read. Brink's later desire to escape, and to smash a state that permitted such cruelty, are understandable. Reconciliation, for any lover, is painful. But also necessary.