Philida | General Fiction
André P. Brink
Human & Rousseau
An engrossing, moving and deeply humane novel by one of South Africa’s greatest authors.
Philida is based on historical fact; the setting and the subject will remind readers of Brink’s novel A Chain of Voices (of which a Member of the Swedish Academy said: “The greatest novel about slavery ever written”).
Philida was a slave who lived on the farm Zandvliet between 1820 and 1835 (today the well-known wine estate Solms Delta). She had several children with the owner’s son, Frans. But then his father, Cornelis Brink, decides Frans has to marry the daughter of a rich Cape family, and it would be better to sell Philida and her children…
The novel starts where Philida registers a complaint at the Slave Protector’s office in Stellenbosch. However, her courage cost her dearly: in 1833 Brink sold her and her children at a slave auction in Worcester. Shortly after this the British government set the slaves free, but Philida was already booked in with a Worcester family for four years.
The hardship and humiliation she has endured strengthen Philida’s resolve and one day she claims her freedom. She persuades the Moslem slave, Labyn, to set off with her and her children, through the bleak hinterland, for the Gariep.
Philida is a protest novel but also an emancipation novel. It demonstrates the meaning of freedom, and reveals that which lies at the root of oppression. Although there are scenes of hardship and cruelty, there are also moments of warmth and humour in this novel. And above all, the voice of a master narrator.
An interesting aspect of the novel: Brink uses historical facts which include information about one of his own forebears.