Andre Brink is one of the leading lights of white South African literature, a writer with a strong commitment towards social justice in a country whose black majority until recently could not have a say in its daily life. His celebrated 'A dry white season' stands as a monument of indictment of the 'apartheid' regime by exploring its consequences in the social dynamics and psychology of a white South African schoolteacher who takes upon himself to find out the whereabouts of his gardener's son and, then, the gardener himself. Anybody interested in 'apartheid' South Africa and in Brink's ouvre of moral commitment should read that novel; it would definitely be an excellent introduction to both.
With 'A chain of voices', Brink explores the dynamics of another oppresive regime: slavery. It is evident, however, that what Brink does in this novel is to go back to the institution of slavery to explore 'apartheid' in a similar way to 'A dry white season'. And what he finds, again, is ugly. At many levels, Brink tells us that any oppresive regime corrupts all human relationships, and that it can even transform--in a Frankenstein-like fashion--victims into victimizers. Not only is white pitted against black, but also wife against husband, father against children, brother against brother, and friend against friend. Brink brilliantly accomplishes this feat by giving voice to those that are senselessly involved in the oppresive dynamics of slavery, in a true 'chain of voices'.
The novel is set in the early 1800s in the Western Cape, in the beautiful area around Tulbagh and Worcester. From the very beginning, we know that three white men (two masters and one schoolteacher) have been killed by a group of slaves in a small-scale rebellion. What the novel does so well is to go back through the forces that led to that ending. In the process, one finds that the oppressor oftentimes is not aware of his oppression, that he is not enterely evil in the naive way that he is almost always portrayed, and that, incredible as it might seem, there is human side to him. On the other hand, one also finds that those that are oppressed are forced to commit acts of cruelty, even against those they supposedly love, in an effort to assert some power. In the end, however, everybody, but particularly the male characters, is a victim and a victimizer.
Even though I enjoyed the novel, with its deep psychological analysis of the characters involved, I found that the language seems too modern and sometimes too sophisticated for the 1800s setting. Also, there is some repetitiveness, particularly in the sexual domination of women. Despite this, I thoroughly recommend this novel to anyone interested in Brink's novels and the psychological consequences of oppressive regimes.