Tag Archives: Jan Rabie

The heart has spaces – the love letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker

Drawing in Ingrid's letter of 15 October 1963
In the beginning there were the women of his past, a ghost among them. André Brink had never been afraid to love. After the life-defining relationship of his youth with Ingrid Jonker, her suicide, and four divorces, at the age of 69 he had the guts to say yes to a delicate possibility.

When we met in Austria towards the end of 2004 I was terribly young, on the verge of a divorce, broken by betrayals, and almost paralysed by mistrust. Continents and cultures apart, 42 years between us, the odds staked against us could not have been higher. Yet we somehow mustered enough courage to dare the impossible and turn it into reality. For ten years, the first thing we did every morning after waking up next to each other was to smile. No matter what. Of course it hadn’t been easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. And coming to terms with our respective pasts was our greatest challenge.

André first introduced me to Ingrid in a letter on 23 December 2004:

She was a year or so older than me, and light-years older in terms of sexual experience. It was an incredible, hectic, heady, head-over-heels love of extremes, swinging wildly from ecstasy to the depths of misery; and it became just too exhausting and demanding. After two years (and several break-ups and new starts) she started a new love-affair, and then I did too (both of us, I think, grasping at possibilities of getting out of our own relationship which had become suffocating). And so it ended. She had one more mad love-affair, and committed suicide.

Coming to live with André in the South African spring of 2005, I very quickly realised that in order to know him – truly know him – I had to understand what had happened between him and Ingrid 40 years earlier. We both had to. No other woman in André’s life had left as indelible a mark on him as Ingrid. No other haunted me as much in the beginning of our relationship.

I am proud of countless things André and I have achieved together, but the one that made all else possible is the space we created in our relationship for sharing, for being painfully open with each other. André and I met at Vienna International Airport when I went to pick him up and accompany him on the train journey to Salzburg, where he was participating in a symposium I’d helped organise. On that trip we began a conversation which, literally, lasted ten years until I told him I loved him for the last time and closed his lips with a final kiss just before he died earlier this year. It was a stripping of minds and hearts. Time after time, we stood completely soul-naked in front of each other, risking everything, and eventually knowing that love would prevail, always, no matter how terrifyingly ugly the revealed truth – on both sides – was. It is the kind of knowledge which can lay any ghost to rest.

At the end of Everything I Know I Learned from TV: Philosophy for the Unrepentant Couch Potato, my favourite philosopher, Mark Rowlands, writes: “If I could repay you with a wish it would be that you find something in your life so important that without it you would not be the same person. If you’re lucky you’ll have it already.” The relationship with Ingrid was such a thing for André. He wrote in his memoir, A Fork in the Road (Harvill Secker, 2009): “On that memorable afternoon of 15 April, 1963, a group of us were gathered in the lounge of Jan Rabie’s rambling old house in Cape Town, when Ingrid walked in, barefoot and provocative, and the movement against censorship officially began, and the course of my life was changed.” Her influence permeated everything: his personal life, and, just as crucially, his writing. One only needs to look at André’s women characters, walking in Ingrid’s footprints across the pages of his novels, to comprehend what an impact their meeting had on his creativity. And they are only the most obvious example. But despite the evidence, for many years André was exceedingly reluctant to speak or write about Ingrid after her death.

At the time of our engagement in early 2006, together with Antjie Krog and Ingrid de Kok, André was working on the new translations of Ingrid Jonker’s poems which would result in the publication of Black Butterflies: Selected Poems (Human & Rousseau, 2007). It must have been during this period that he showed me his and Ingrid’s correspondence for the first time. He kept the letters in the same place as his diaries which he reread for the writing of the introduction to Black Butterflies, the first text of its kind after many years of silence. An intimate treasure and a chunk of literary history many had wondered about for decades, even back then the letters had an irresistible appeal for me. Although my grasp of the Afrikaans language and literature was shaky at this stage, I understood their importance as a key to André’s life story and to the creative and intellectual forces culminating in the literary movement of the Sestigers. We looked at them together, he told me their story, and allowed me to comment on the translations as well as on the introduction. The title for the collection followed from a suggestion I’d made. Being included felt like a form of exorcism.

I wrote in my own diary of the time: “Dear Ingrid, are you smiling at us after all?”

Continue reading: LitNet

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27 April 1994: Two Decades Later

27 April 1994SA 27 APRIL 1994: AN AUTHORS’ DIARY * ‘N SKRYWERSDAGBOEK (Queillerie, 1994)
Edited by André Brink

“…here was an opportunity for writers to test their word against, arguably, the most remarkable moment in their history.” André Brink in “To the Reader”, p. 8.

“Later, sun low, tide running out in me, I bus into the township shack of my dear love, my need of her never so strong.
[…]
She reads me, smiles, her eyes soft in the room’s dusk, her hands beckoning me to come.
‘It’s done,’ she whispers, ‘we have walked the last mile!’
Later still, I help her to the bed. We are careful with each other as though we hold a fine glass, and my heart sings.
Yes, against all odds, my heart sings.” Tatamkulu Afrika in “Against All Odds, My Heart Sings”, p. 13.

“Mens se hart is bly: niemand gaan hierdie stukkies toekoms wat die mense vashou weer kan wegneem nie. Byna wil ek sê: hierdie land se politici verdien wragtig nie so ‘n wonderlike bevolking nie.” Breyten Breytenbach in “Joernaal van ‘n wending”, p. 25.

“The day has been captured for me by the men and women who couldn’t read or write, but underwrote it, at last, with their kind of signature. May it be the seal on the end of illiteracy, of the pain of imposed ignorance, of the deprivation of the fullness of life.” Nadine Gordimer in “April 27: The First Time”, p. 52.

“We all know that it won’t be a smooth road ahead.” Jenny Hobbs in “The Day We Minded Our Peace in Queues”, p. 60.

“An Organisation must be disciplined, purposeful, and idealistic in a good sense. It must also be diverse, in that it must encompass others, beyond its own affiliates. It must be committed and dedicated to one goal and one goal only: to change the miserable conditions of people to enable them to live full and rich lives; it must inspire them to realise their full intellectual potential.” Mazisi Kunene, p. 73.

“My greatest victory and achievement as an individual is to know that my children and grandchildren and their age groups in my community move with grace and dignity as full-fledged citizens of South Africa, and with full rights to determine the future of our country.” Ellen Kuzwayo in “The First Democratic Elections in South Africa”, p. 80.

“Peace is like an undying light / Shining and glowing from within / Within each one of us” Gcina Mhlophe in “Peace Is Within”, p. 85.

“Perhaps it [Table Mountain] was reaffirming its old lesson on faith: on election day. That the future is there for us: we need to have faith in it, and in ourselves. And so I ended my day unemotionally, but deeply affirmed.” Njabulo S Ndebele in “Elections, Mountains, and One Voter”, p. 95.

“I picked up the pencil that was well chewed and attached to the makeshift desk by a length of string and put my cross, quickly, trying not to agonise about it yet again.” Mike Nicol in “Voting at the Camel Rock Café”, p. 98.

“Wanner iemand my vra wat dink ek van ons toekoms, dan antwoord ek ons mag die toekoms nie ken nie: so bly elke dag ‘n avontuur.” Jan Rabie, p. 108.

“So, Mammie en Derri, cheers! Ek leef – kyk, ek leef – in ‘n nuwe Suid-Afrika!” Adam Small in “Feniks: ‘n brief, kamma, aan my ouers (wat al dood is)”, p. 123.

“It was after three hours walking, at 7 am, that I cast my two votes at the Dwarsrivier polling station. It was quite clear that I was the very first person to vote there. No doubt the IEC staff manning the station had been expecting something extraordinary all along, but not for the first voter suddenly to appear, as I had done, out of the mountains behind the school-hall that served as the polling station.” Stephen Watson in “Voting With My Feet”, p. 162.

“Want vir die heel eerste keer in my lewe was ek ‘n vry Suid-Afrikaan.” Melvin Whitebooi in “Au revoir”, p. 171.

Contirbutors: Tatamkulu Afrika, Hennie Aucamp, Chris Barnard, Breyten Breytenbach, Kerneels Breytenbach, André Brink, Achmat Dangor, Abraham H de Vries, Arthur Goldstuck, Jeanne Goosen, Nadine Gordimer, Rachelle Greeff, Jenny Hobbs, Peter Horn, Daniel Hugo, Elsa Joubert, Antjie Krog, Mazisi Kunene, Ellen Kuzwayo, Dalene Matthee, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Gcina Mhlophe, Petra Müller, Njabulo S Ndebele, Mike Nicol, Welma Odendaal, Abraham Phillips, Marguerite Poland, Jan Rabie, Albie Sachs, Riana Scheepers, Gus Silber, Adam Small, Berta Smit, Peter Snyders, Klaas Steytler, Alexander Strachan, Pieter Dirk-Uys, Madeleine van Biljon, Marita van der Vyver, Marlene van Niekerk, Lettie Viljoen (Ingrid Winterbach), Stephen Watson, George Weideman, Melvin Whitebooi