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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ((( Kleinkat )))
Philida is an African slave girl, working for the Brink family in the Eastern Cape in the early 19th century. She narrates some chapters; others are narrated by the plantation owner Cornelis or his son Frans. Later on, more narrators are also brought in. It seems from the end-notes that it is loosely based on Andre Brink's own ancestors.

The basic premise is...
Published on 17 Sep 2012 by MisterHobgoblin

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars VERY POOR
The story started off with promise but after several chapters it descended into farce. Would not recommend. Did not finish.
Published 20 months ago by Janie


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ((( Kleinkat ))), 17 Sep 2012
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Philida (Hardcover)
Philida is an African slave girl, working for the Brink family in the Eastern Cape in the early 19th century. She narrates some chapters; others are narrated by the plantation owner Cornelis or his son Frans. Later on, more narrators are also brought in. It seems from the end-notes that it is loosely based on Andre Brink's own ancestors.

The basic premise is that Frans has had a relationship with Philida and promised her freedom; he appears to have reneged on the promise and so Philida has gone off to Cape Town to lodge an official complaint. You know it is unlikely to end well.

There are many novels centring around exploitation of slaves. Amongst the best in recent years are The Polished Hoe and The Long Song. Philida is different because it doesn't put forward a straight narrative of oppression and hatred. Instead, we see the perspectives of the landowners, struggling to run farms on tight budgets as the market price of grapes falls. We see a world where slaves can be treated with compassion and do have some rights. We see that in some cases, bonded labourers could be given freedom and could even become accepted into family homes.

Yet for all this apparent rigour and potential for kindness, there is still the fundamental obstacle that the plantation owners were in charge and the slaves were not. Any judicial process would be tilted to work in favour of the landowners and any relationship between slave and farmer could never be one of equals. This makes the abuses (and there are real abuses in Philida) all the harder to stomach.

Half way through the novel, it takes a different turn as Philida is sold on to new owners away from the Cape. This allows for a greater perspective, moving beyond the immediate Brink family and into wider politics and an emergent Islamic spirituality. It allows us to reappraise the Brinks in a broader context and poor Frans does not come out well. It is well done and the strength of the characterisation allows difficult messages to be communicated with conviction.

The novel appears to be written in the spirit of a new South Africa - the Rainbow Nation - where the past happened and is not ignored, but where all have agreed to move on. There is no condemnation, just an acceptance that that's what people did in those days. It is a powerful account of how bonded labour was accepted as normal; how survival (for both slave and owner) depended on not rocking the boat and not trying to become what you were not pre-destined to be.

There is also a lovely little cat called Kleinkat who brings warmth and tenderness whenever it is most needed. Kleinkat represents hope.

Philida is a strong novel that will pose difficult questions. I recommend it highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I get to wear shoes..., 30 Aug 2013
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Philida (Paperback)
André Brink is a South African novelist who writes in Afrikaans and English. I read his Rumours Of Rain some three decades ago. The country has produced a rich crop of novelists which includes J. M Coetzee, Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer, Laurens van der Post, Olive Schreiner, and, though not strictly South African, Doris Lessing. I've read at least one of each of their works. Obviously I've found the country fascinating for a long time, and was able to travel there, for extended periods, three times in the early `80's. At the time the tourism bureau's "come-on" slogan was: "The entire world in one country." And indeed it is, certainly in the sense the bureau meant it: immense geographic diversity, in a compact and convenient form. But it is also true in a sense that the bureau would prefer not to stress: a disproportionate share of the physical resources are concentrated in the hand of a minority of white people, while those of a darker hue have much less. How this come to be, and is maintained, is part of the fascination.

Thus, when this book surfaced on my "targeted" Vine list (how does Amazon know?...yeah, a clever correlation algorithm ) I had to push the "Please Send" button, and was not disappointed. André Brink has produced a remarkable historical novel based on real events which in numerous ways is akin to William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner (Vintage Classics) including the fact that both occurred in virtually the same year, and both involve the injustices of legal slavery, though continent's apart. In Brink's case however, the real historical events occurred within his own family history. The Brink's had been in South Africa since around the time of the American revolution, and André Brink discovered that the brother of one of his direct ancestors, Cornelis Brink, had owned a "knitting girl," whose name was Philida, on his farm, from 1824 to 1832. In the following year all slaves were legally freed throughout the vast majority of the British Empire, a full three decades before this was accomplished in the United States.

Philida is depicted as a courageous and independent-minded woman who must make numerous "accommodations" to an odious political and economic system that recognizes the legal right of one human being to own another, yet she maintains a strong desire to "be her own boss" one day. Slaves were always bare-foot, so the symbol for her freedom is the wearing of her own shoes. Brink unsparingly depicts the utter brutality that is used by the whites in order to ensure the their dominance of the slaves, making those "accommodations" a fact of life, if one is to maintain one's. Yes, Brink's ancestors do not come off very well in this account, being depicted as brutal, feckless, and with a selective grasping "morality."

Brink writes from three alternating perspectives: Philida's, François', and Cornelius'. Cornelius is her "owner," and François is his son who maintains a long-term sexual relationship with Philida whereby he fathers four children. Much of this action takes place in a bamboo copse (depicted on the cover), a hideaway for pleasure. Bamboo? Of the interesting new facts that I learned, it was imported from the Dutch colony which is present-day Indonesia, along with the slaves. Yes, Philida is Javanese, and not African, as one might assume. In terms of acts of the imagination, Brink depicts a scene whereby Philida is able to convince François to reverse the master-slave relationship in their bamboo copse idyll. Who knows? It might have actually happened.

There are a number of other characters including Ouma Nella, who was freed by Cornelius... and one learns the reason why. The economics of life, including the historically verified auction of the Brink's property are likewise depicted. Also the true natural beauty that is the Cape province. And Brink gives the reader a selective course in Afrikaans, peppering his account with words from that language.

Overall, I feel that "Philida" is a strong and authentic work of the imagination that focuses on the ramifications of slavery as practiced in South Africa on the cusp of their legal emancipation. How whites are able to largely maintain that income inequality some 180 years later is another story. I believe this is a much finer work than Rumours Of Rain, and that once again, Vine was "on-target." 5-stars, plus.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Visceral, harrowing, moving., 10 Oct 2012
By 
lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Philida (Hardcover)
This novel is set during the time at the brink of freedom for the slaves whose lives are vividly and viscerally brought to life by Andre Brink. There is a scene late in the book where Floris, the slave, is about to be flogged and is being tied to the flogging bench, which is dark with the stains of blood from the slaves who have been flogged before him. Floris' "entire back and lean buttocks bear the dark criss-cross marks of old floggings." His master orders Labyn, another slave, to "tie it properly". However, Labyn refuses. "I shall have to say no to the Meester. That is not my work." Labyn draws his strength from his faith and the knowledge that in the coming months slaves will be freed. The Meester marches back inside his house, angry, and leaves Floris on the bench. He waits all night. By morning the gorans from Floris who has lain all night on the flogging bench have become "deeper and darker." In the morning the master orders him to be untied and says to his wife, "It's important for a slave to be reminded regularly of who is the Baas."
The book tells the story of Philida, a slave who was related to the author in real life. She worked as a knitting girl on a farm and had four children by her master's son, Francois. Philida was promised her freedom by Francois and complained to the Slave Protector in 1832 about his failure to keep his promise of giving her her freedom. She knows she is taking a huge risk, because: "slaves that went to complain with the whole law in their hands, and then afterwards, when they get back to their Baas, they get beaten to death or they get hanged upside down or they get starved to death." This action by Philida resulted in Francois' father Cornelius selling her. Around these historical facts Andre Brink has built a powerful story which looks at the relationship between Philida and Francois, and tries to find a reason for the fact that one of her four children is not mentioned as living in the Slave Rolls.
It is a challenging look at relationships, because the reader is asked to believe that Francois has a fondness for Philida, and that she submits willingly to have his children. Cornelius has a much more stereotypical relationship with his slaves. It is really quite hard to believe that Philida has any feelings for Francois, even though Brink tries, I think, to make that seem plausible.
Philida rescues a small cat, Kleinkat, from drowning, and this little cat is a motif for hope and survival.
Philida herself sees shoes as the ultimate symbol of freedom. "The man or the woman with shoes on their feet, they cannot be slaves, they are free, shoes mean they are not chickens or donkeys or pigs or dogs, they are people."
This is a really powerful story, all the more so because it is firmly rooted in truth. It offers a different perspective on the relationships between slaves and masters in a sometimes uncomfortable way.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars End of an era, 15 Dec 2012
By 
ADAM (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Philida (Hardcover)
This great novel, published in 2012, is set in 'South Africa' during the early 1830s.

Philida, a slave in the Brink household, makes a complaint about her master at the Office of the Slave Protector, an office set up relatively recently, soon after the British replaced the Dutch as rulers of the Cape Colony. Her complaint sets off a chain of events during which the reader is introduced to the harsh realities of slavery in the colony. The reader will also learn quickly that nothing is as simple as black and white. Many of the slaves have some white (i.e. European) blood, and many of their masters and mistresses have some African or Asian blood coursing through their veins.

Some years ago, someone told me that when the ancestries of the leaders of the Apartheid governments were examined, almost all of them were found to have had at least one non-white (African or Asian)ancestor.

Philida knows full well that there is a big change in the offing. Soon, slavery is to be abolished in the Cape Colony. This is also abundantly obvious to her masters. Still, life goes on much as before, but what will become of the slaves and their 'baasses' after slavery comes to an end?

Philida and her children are sold to a new owner far from the Brink's farm. She meets another slave who introduces her to Islam, the religion, which, unlike the Christianity to which she has become accustomed, respects everyone as being equal. This and the ever nearing day of liberation emboldens her; she begins to do what she wants - not what she is told to do.

The author plunges us straight into the world of the Cape of the 1830s, and little imagination is required to believe that we are looking through a window into a vivid past. Most of the story is transmitted to the reader in the characters' own words most successfully.

As I read the book, I wondered occasionally whether the author was drawing parallels between two momentous occasions: the ending of slavery in the Cape in 1834 and the downfall of Apartheid almost 160 years later. Near the end of the book Philida says: " If you ask me, it will be harder for the white people than for us. We can still manage, one way or the other. But what will become of them? We are like the foundation of their house. Their lives and everything is built on us. This whole land is built on our sweat and blood."

Review by author of "ROGUE OF ROUXVILLE"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars VERY POOR, 22 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Philida (Kindle Edition)
The story started off with promise but after several chapters it descended into farce. Would not recommend. Did not finish.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A sad disappointment, 22 Mar 2013
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I've loved Brink's work since reading A Dry White Season, but I didn't like this novel. Perhaps I've read too many novels with similar themes, but Philida did not come alive for me at all. Perhaps Brink is better at portraying male characters?
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too painful, 24 Aug 2012
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I am aware that novels about slavery should not be an 'enjoyable' or 'comfortable' read, but this one I found too difficult to bear. While Philida's voice is striking and powerful, what unsettled me most was that Brink chose a multiple narrative, including Philida's boss, Cornelis, and Cornelis' son, Frans.

Frans's relationship with Philida is complicated - although he claims that he loves her, and there is the odd moment of tenderness, I cannot see their sexual relationship as anything other than rape (a slave girl can not say 'no' to her master's son; love is not love if one person is owned by the other), or at least forced prostitution - Philida seems to endure it only because he promises to free her and their children, a promise he reneges on. He is weak and unwilling to defend her, both against his father and the law. It feels somewhat like reading Tess of the D'urbervilles with Alec D'urberville as a co-narrator.

Cornelis is a more straightforward character, with no understanding of his slaves beyond brute animals, and inhabiting his head is unsurprisingly unpleasant. A rape scene - one that Philida herself declines to describe - is instead told by him, making it feel like a further violation and also that you are a voyeur or even complicit in the action. Add to this the fact that this novel is based on actual, real-life ancestors of Brink's (and he makes this connection obvious by giving them the surname 'Brink'), and it feels all the more complicit. I'm not exactly sure what point Brink was trying to make with this novel - was he trying to resolve any lingering guilt he may have felt for his ancestors? Was he trying to undo the 'sweeping under the rug' of slave history in South Africa, by bringing this particular history to light?

The use of Afrikaans dialect and slow, somewhat rambling pace make this novel even more difficult to understand - unfortunately, whatever Brink's intentions were, I found it lost under the weight of too many voices and too much history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Love it!, 30 May 2014
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This review is from: Philida (Hardcover)
Bought this new from Amazon. Great book. Andre Brink does not disappoint. Nice quality book as well with nice dust jacket.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than 12 Years a Slave, 5 Feb 2014
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A wonderful and memorable read. Followed this with 12 Years A Slave and the two work very well together as an eye opener to the slave trade.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Brink's best, 7 Sep 2013
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Philida is a slave in the old Cape Colony in the early 19th century, just before the British authorities abolished slavery. Andre Brink draws on his own family's history for the often shocking detail of what happens to her, but too much of his research is decanted into the novel in undigested form, at the expense of the story. In his latter years the writer has become over-enamoured of magical realism, with unfortunate results that are evident here.
In my view Brink's earliest works are his best. Try "A Dry White Season" for a near-contemporary setting in the apartheid era (also made into a film with Donald Sutherland). For me "An Instant in the Wind" is his best historical novel.
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Philida
Philida by André Brink (Hardcover - 2 Aug 2012)
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