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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every Parent, Every Teacher, All of Us.
Sometimes I read the last sentence of a novel first. I am not sure why, though maybe it is because I become impatient or because I think I can get an idea of whether the writer knows where he is taking me.  Although sorely tempted at times to do this with Mark Behr's Embrace, luckily I did not. The last sentence is shattering, putting the whole 590 pages of novel into...
Published on 2 April 2000

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2.0 out of 5 stars ... started reading this after a run of 4/5 really good books. I found it very long winded to ...
I started reading this after a run of 4/5 really good books. I found it very long winded to start with and that spoilt any good parts. I struggled to finish it and it left me feeling flat and disapointed. I have put in on the shelf and maybe in the future I will try again.
Published 8 months ago by blondy511

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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every Parent, Every Teacher, All of Us., 2 April 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
Sometimes I read the last sentence of a novel first. I am not sure why, though maybe it is because I become impatient or because I think I can get an idea of whether the writer knows where he is taking me.  Although sorely tempted at times to do this with Mark Behr's Embrace, luckily I did not. The last sentence is shattering, putting the whole 590 pages of novel into miniscule perspective. The most insignificant of events and objects suddenly takes on the biggest possible symbolic meaning. This is what lies at the heart of this morally challenging novel. I am now reading it for the second time in two weeks. The book demands from its readers the patience and tenderness which a good parent needs to raise a difficult child. Like Scott Joplin said of ragtime: it has to be done slowly. With respect. This is the story of Karl De Man, a thirteen year old Afrikaner boy in a posh boys' music academy in South Africa. The year is 1976, when poverty-stri  cken black South African children are protesting against the government's policy of forcing them to learn in Afrikaans, the language of their oppressors. This is the historical backdrop against which Karl's world famous music school is rehearsing Beethoven's Solemn Mass - in Latin, no less. Political and social ironies abound throughout. From the outset Karl is in love with his best friend Dominic. In search of some form of unspecified revenge, he also sets out and successfully seduces his choir master, Mister Cilliers. The reader is left with questions of how and why a thirteen year old may be perverted to undertake this dreadful mission. This is where Behr's technique of telling the story in an achronological manner works its complex genius: as much as I wanted to judge the boy for his deceptions and his manipulativeness and for his distance from the history unfolding around him, the novel's structure was insisting  that I suspend judgement, to wait, to first understand more of the boy's psychology and the history of his family and his nation. Like the layers of an onion being stripped off,  the workings of Karl De Man's mind are exposed through a back and forth movement along his personal journey. A number of stories unfold simultaneously alongside the stories of his relationships with Dominic  and Mister Cilliers: 1. The story of his own family's loss of their colonial land in East Africa after three generations. 2. The story of his childhood in the 'bush' of Zululand where his father is a game-ranger. 3. The story of his family's movement from the Eden of Zululand towards becoming part of the white lower-middle class of a South African city, and the boy's simultaneous alienation from his parents and from himself  4. The music school's year-long rehearsal of the Solemn Mass, with the novel itself divided into the five movements of Beethoven's controversial masterpiece. 5. Through his relationship to his favourite teacher, Ma'am Sanders, Karl's discovery of himself as an artist, as a boy with a passion for painting and writing.  During the last 100 riveting pages, all of these stories are brought together in a devastating and heart-wrenching conclusion in which the boy will let go of everything he is and wants to be. Instead of an artist, he will become The Man his society at this instant demands of him to be. In what becomes the book's most chilling and immoral 'embrace' Karl undertakes to become 'a good bourgeois citizen of this country,' and Behr leaves us with our knowledge of what that means in Apartheid South Africa in 1976. It is at this point that the author seems to say: okay, now, at last,  after almost 600 pages, you may feel free to judge Karl and his story. Mark Behr's Embrace,  to my mind infinitely superior  to his earlier novel The Smell of Apples, presents one of the most compelling  socio-political portraits of masculinity I have ever come across. As a study of how societal and parental power and ideology work to be internalised into a child's consciousness and to make patriarchy function, the novel ranks with the best works of fiction I have ever read. For other reasons I also think of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, Gunter Grass's The Tin drum, Marcel Proust's Rememberance of Things Past and of Fyodor Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment. As challenging as this book may be to many of us, it should be read and reread by every parent and every teacher who is serious about trying to create a world in which to raise a whole child.        
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bold Literary Hologram, 27 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Hardcover)
Written with the agility and grace of a sensitive and secure writer, Embrace provides pleasure and provokes discomfort as it explores the complexities of the maturing mind of a young boy on the cusp of adolescence in a country (South Africa in 1976) experiencing its own rebellious adolescent psyche. The book sweeps through vast landscapes of body, soul, and place, leaving deep gorges, some lovely, many pocked marked, all dramatic. This is a story told courageously with intimate details to prod us along through difficult times, to seduce us into luxuriating in its rich flora and fauna, to convince us that the terrain is worthwhile and exciting, to compassionately understand and feel pain,joy, love, anger, hate, fear, rejection, companionship, and the giddiness that culminates with creative self expression.
Because Mark Behr's language is so dense with meaning and emotion, we can abandon ourselves to his care and trust that he will be honest in his unfolding of this delicate and deliberately told story, and we are not let down. On the contrary, we are elevated. We will never again view harsh words as benign. We will never pretend that manipulation is harmless. We will always be aware of how fragile the human psyche can be. We will never again underestimate the impact of emotional repression, nor undervalue the need for everyone, including young boys and middle aged men, to have an emotional language of words and expression as vast as that of the most caring and sensitive females.
We all desire to love and be loved, to connect with a community of like minded people, to trust that those we love and are in community with will not betray us. In Embrace, Mark Behr fashions this paradise in the South African bush, then brutally strips away everything, and allows us a rare opportunity to view this shattered world from the perspective of a man reexperiencing himself as a sensitive and articulate boy. This is a story presented through language as poetic and graceful as the nyala that populate the game reserve where young Karl's memory begins. Embrace is the work of a masterful writer who can make us feel frighteningly uncomfortable, blissfully ecstatic, and intellectually stimulated. This is a book by an author whose words glow with imagery, ring with sound, pulsate with sensation, tingle with delight. This is a bold journey undertaken throughout Embrace, one with many ridge lines and canyons. And the trek is more than worthwhile; the culminating experience can be that we're brought to the place where we finally and fully understand equanimity, our universal connectedness, as well as the disintegration that results through betrayal, and the depravity that is unleashed when family, friends, teachers, community and country sever their lifelines with us. For the reader, this can be an unforgettable and transformative experience.
After 590 pages of being thoroughly immersed in this world, unwilling to relinquish the hold this writer and storyteller exerts, I returned to the beginning and was struck with how Mark Behr has created a literary hologram through his demonstration of the function of memory. He shows us how memory colors our present and our future, how it reorients our past such that we are always, independently and cohesively, engaged with the beginning, middle, and end of our lives. How the energy of memory explodes and radiates around every sensate adventure, great or small, each hopeful wish, silly or grand, as well as our every reminiscence.
This is a text that lives completely and wholly, that vibrates with sound and image, that glistens with abstract thought and ethereal presence. This work will be passed along to friends, parents, siblings, teachers who will gather to discuss the experiences of Karl De Man, of brothers, partners, fathers, of all of us.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that will stay with you., 5 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
This is an incredible tale of what self-loathing and homophobia can do to a child and how we are all unkowingly complicit in the perpetuation of homophobia. It shows up the paths toward a fake masculinity and the price society pays. Apart from the valuable lessons every reader, especially parents, will learn, this novel also beautilfully describes a child's experience of the African bush, the only place where he can remember experiencing complete harmony and hapiness within himself. Written from the heart, Embrace is a story that stays with you, long after you've read the astonishing last sentence.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, haunting and beautiful book, 4 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
The story of Karl De Man is both touching and disturbing. A boy taken to the isolated boys only school of the Drakensburg boys Choir has to learn to confront feelings of adolescent love and the fear of punishment for these relationships. Mark Behr's description of the school is beautiful and very accurate (having visiting it myself). I love the way the story moves from from one place in time to another and the subtle connections between each. Occasionally there is some Afrikaans spoken, which makes the story that much more enchanting.
No book has touched me as much as this book has and three months and four books later I still think of it and smile.
Thank you Mark Behr for sharing this will all of us.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Embrace this book, 22 Mar. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Hardcover)
There's been a spate of books during the last few years that deal with microcosms. The Beach was perhaps the most mainstream of these. These kind of books are always delightful to read, especially when it is really well written and the characters come off the pages. In Mark Behr's novel, Embrace, the reader is also confronted with a kind of microcosm. This time it is an elitist music school in the majestic Drakensberg in South Africa. Karl De Man, the main character, who grew up in the pristine beauty of game reserves and whose parents are not very wealthy, attends this school. He is surrounded by an array of characters, ranging from headmasters that represent the repressive apartheid government at the time (1976) to absolutely delightful "queeny" characters. Karl has a relationshiop with his music master, a relationship through which he gets to know himself, art, love, hate. The novel follows the grown-up Karl's chain of thought as he jumps from his days growing up in the game reserves to his days as part of the music school's world famous choir. Embrace is a demanding novel. I read it and then put it down for some time before the gravity of the book started to sink in. This is a kind of a masterpiece, but not in the tradition of those books that usually qualify as masterpieces. It has some other quality, something not easy to explain. I suggest you read it yourself. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A generous and hopeful book, 29 Aug. 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book immensely.
Quite apart from the coming of age themes that form the main thrust, there is the feeling of an all pervasive fragmentation of the adolescent experience which most may identify with. The disjointed and oppressive feel is also that of the mind-set of the South African regime of the time and spookily reminiscent to all who experienced it.
Behr's characters occupy distinct poles and the struggles of the protagonist Karl is played deftly against the more predictable background of his colleagues and teachers.
One is drawn into the process of Karls growth and his capacity for empathy. Yet for every intimacy or success, there is a reference to sexuality, race or class to rob it of its full impact; to disappoint.
This is a brutally honest book and one of the rare books about boys and 'becoming a man'. The fleeting mention of Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov reminds us of the themes of failed fathers, lost sons and the possibility of redemption through love.

Watch out for the scene observed at a distance of a father teaching a son to fish on the beach, for a glimpse back to the 'Smell of Apples'.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. Haunting, 31 Mar. 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
"Embrace" held me spellbound, as Mark Behr, with incredible grace and piercing insight, unwrapped the complex emotions and passions of Karl De Man, against a backdrop of a country in turmoil. This is a brilliant work: one which haunts you long after you have been swept along to its aching end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly insightful, brutally honest, just wonderful., 21 Mar. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Hardcover)
This book really touched me in a profound way. Mark Behr somehow delved inside himself to such a degree that he was able to retrieve from childhood that tragic moment at which the world loses its wonder, its beauty, the moment at which enthusiasm and wonder are murdered.
Behr has created in "Karl", the central protagonist, a literary character so real and complex that, in reading his story, one feels less alone in the world. I will miss him greatly.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A boy's heart, 16 Feb. 2005
By 
This review is from: Embrace (Paperback)
This is a book to disturb, inspire, sadden, provoke. Its massive scale - a daunting prospect for most readers - reflects the huge scope of its subject which reaches far beyond the central theme of young Karl De Man's emotional and sexual world. One might describe the structure as 'symphonic', in its interaction of themes and counter-themes, though in a looser more fantastical way than implied by the many references to Beethoven. The South African setting enhances this effect: the landscape, the uncompromising contrasts and colours, the sharp, brutal delineation of character, mood and political extremism.
It is however eminently readable once one has a measure of the teasing complexities of the form: both the uneven chronology and the sectional back-and-forward treatment of narrative and descriptive passages require perseverance. The author's attempt to amalgamate the apparent incompatibilities of quasi-poetical impressionism and blatant school-boy adventurism is only partly successful, but the cracks in this method are to some extent papered over by sallies into more introspective fields, particularly the turmoil and conflicts of a sensitive boy being emotionally torn apart by what he feels and what an unfeeling world expects of him.
The book is a curious mixture of the real and unreal. The physical and cultural background of South Africa is all-present - Behr powerfully re-creates the realities and the language of his homeland - yet the characters seem curiously remote from the inner life of the novel, as though they are placed there as necessary props to the unfolding of an uncertain and complex drama. The boys - and their intense friendships - are real enough; the teacher-figures on the other hand are more often stereotypical than flesh-and-blood, with the possible exception of Ma'am Sanders, and the Karl's choirmaster-lover, Cilliers. Similarly, Bok and Bokkie appear more like guardians than parents in spite of fine delineation of character, behaviour and attitude, possibly a subtle device to suggest Karl's emotional isolation from his family.
The threads of betrayal and self-deception, coupled with anxiety and guilt, including sexual guilt, are woven within a texture of dream-like, sometimes nightmarish expression. The occasional adoption of free-flow (stream-of-consciousness) writing is intended as a window into the workings of the adolescent psyche by a writer for whom the story is clearly personal and to an extent autobiographical. The colours are stark and strong, the nuances of language and experience being from time to time weakened by overstatement, and indeed a kind of emotional extremism. (One must however allow literary licence in respect of an adult narrator recalling his boyhood in such depth and detail.) The willowy figure of Dominic, Karl's 'best friend', is a caricature of the aesthetic and intellectual prodigy: the well-educated and liberal Webster family stand apart from the conventions and social norms which surround them. There is a kind of Forsterian symbolism at work here, yet in the mad, prophetic figure of Uncle Klasie, the imagery becomes distorted.
The story can be seen as a brilliant interpretation of the contradictory forces and values acting upon a young life to the point of an eventual rejection of spontaneity, friendship and love in favour of convention and conformity. The tragedy is in the inevitability of the transformation. There is a sense of 'quest for fulfilment' in this work: the struggle of a creative artist to find reason and meaning in a dislocated world. Mark Behr attended the Drakensberg Boys' Choir Music School and studied at the University of Stellenbosch. After the success of his first book he confessed to having spied for the government and later for the ANC while he was a student leader. Refusing to elaborate on his spying, he announced he was working on a second novel whose theme was 'betrayal'. "The truth," he said, "was so big it could be described better and interrogated better through fiction."
'Embrace' explores the relationship between language , politics, and sexuality, but may fall short of achieving the author's ambitious hopes, and its aspiration as 'the great South African novel'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful depiction of the pain and joy of growing up., 21 April 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Embrace (Hardcover)
Amazing. Brave. Compelling. Delicious. Excellent. Fabulous. Gorgeous. Humbling. Inspiring. Joyous. Knowing. Lucious. Marvelous. Noteworthy. Opalescent. Queer. Radiant. Stupendous. Transformative. Unbelievable. Valiant. Wondrous. eXtraordinary. Yummy. Zuperb.
Going one better than his first award winning novel, Behr tells the story of a child's transformation into an adult capable of betraying and wounding those who have betrayed and wounded him. But that simple sentence doesn't begin to describe the beauty of a text that sings as this one does. In addition, the novel is tremendously smart about the complicated relationship of art and trauma. Highest recommendations.
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Embrace
Embrace by Prof Mark Behr (Hardcover - 2 Mar. 2000)
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