Book Review – Philida

by Andre Brink (Random House) ISBN 0 781846 557057

In 1832, after following the Elephant Trail that runs from the Village of Franschoek to the small town of Stellenbosch near Cape Town, the young slave woman, Philida arrives at the Drostdy. She is directed to the Office of the Slave Protector, to lodge a complaint against her owner, Cornelius Brink, and his son, Frances Brink.

They cross question her. ‘When did I leave last light? Where did I sleep? Did I get a pass for coming here?’ Philida thinks and knows it is hopeless trying to become a free slave, especially after she made babies with a white man.

Zandvleit is where it started in the shadow of the mountains. She was nine when she was brought there. She learned how to knit only to have her pretty patterns destroyed time and again for small offences.  Her best friend was a tiny cat, and Frans made a bamboo basket for the creature.

The grootbaas decides to make an example of Philida and strips her and lays her on the flogging table. The whistle of his langriempie slashes her buttocks.

I put the book down in horror and took it up some time later. But slavery was slavery and some were beaten to death for dropping a basket of figs. You cannot ever reconcile the world of slavery and the world we live in now, without counting your blessings. Andre Brink has brought that world to life. A giant of a writer, he says it exactly as it was.

Dee Andrew

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Posted on: 11th December 2012