Monday 24 September 2007

42. Triomf

There's something about oppressively grim books and physical illness for me. Somehow, it seems, that when I'm well and truly sick - as I am now (just diagnosed with bronchitis and a really bad sinus infection) - I find myself reading books that are almost unbearable in their own particular brand of gruesomeness.

In some cases - Crime and Punishment, Invisible Man - it's the book itself that seems to make me sick. Those two made me feel extremely claustrophobic and trapped and not long into either of them, I was suffering from some nasty bronchitis.

In other cases - A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and now, Triomf - some part of me I don't understand draws me to the oppressive and overwhelmingly hopeless book when I'm deep in the pains and shivers of laboured breathing, dizzy spells, and fever.

The thing is, all these books are also incredibly compelling, so walking away isn't so easy, or even possible.

My friend Vee gave me Triomf as she needed the novel in its original Afrikaans for her thesis; the one I'm reading is, of course, translated into English by poet Leon de Kock (who is, I'm thinking, pretty wonderful).

Triomf is a "white" suburb in South Africa, built on top of the destroyed black Sophiatown; both of these towns are real. The story focuses on a poverty-stricken, violent, incestuous, perhaps alcoholic family called the Benades, and we are allowed to look into their lives as South Africa approaches its first democratic election. As you may well imagine, it's not a pretty sight.

In fact, I feel like it's making the claustrophobia I'm already feeling due to my trouble breathing much worse, and I may need to take a break with some either Woody Allen or P.G. Wodehouse in the interests of my good health.

That said, it's a very good book and I'll look forward to reading it more when I feel less oppressed by germs.

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