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Triomf Paperback – Sep 7 2000

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Paperback, Sep 7 2000
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (Sept. 7 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349112347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349112343
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 3.2 x 20.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,384,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Afrikaans author Marlene Van Niekerk lived for a time in Triomf, the white working class suburb of western Johannesburg built on the bulldozed rubble of Sophiatown, once one of black South Africa's cultural heartlands. Whilst gardening she kept digging up its remnants, just like one of the characters in her novel Triomf, which excavates the lives of the impoverished poor white culture that superseded it. Sophiatown boasted names like Masekela and Mandela amongst its cultural riches but the Benades family inhabit a far from triumphant world of cheap brandy and coke, kaput cars, irreparable fridges and broken political promises.

Mol, Treppie, Pop and Lambert Benades inhabit a crumbling government house that is all they own apart from each other. Mol, abused and ageing, is comforted only by her beloved mongrels, her numbed resilience as forlorn as her buttonless housecoat. Alienated, articulate Treppie, "a devil with a twist, a twisted devil", furiously turns his frustrated intellectual abilities against his family. Pop, shuffling bemusedly between sleep and waking, tries to remember his lies as he slips towards death. All of them protect the doltish, violent, voyeuristic Lambert, the epileptic progeny of parents who constantly reinvent fantasy stories, disguising a family secret that is a narrative time bomb waiting to explode into the heart of the novel. "We have each other and nothing else", is their refrain, a catchphrase for the survival of a demoralised family adrift from the tide of change, where incest has become a metaphor for the crooked logic of obsessive racial purity, just as the topographical layering of Triomf over Sophiatown becomes a guiding metaphor for the social architecture of apartheid.

Triomf depicts apartheid racism with an uncompromising exactness that has sometimes been lost in white South African writing in English slanted towards a middle class perspective. As the Benades veer between aggressive passivity and directionless activity terrorising each other and their neighbours, Van Niekerk invites the reader to despise the narrowly ignorant sensibilities evoked by their racist vernacular, whose idiom is skilfully echoed in poet Leon de Kock's meticulous translation.

Whilst the novel makes no pretences about the ugliness of racism, its radical success lies in the way it starkly realises the hard reality that the Benades' position as whites gives them few privileges. Van Niekerk tells their story in a bleakly hilarious mode of comic degradation that captures strikingly the unexalted expectations of a forgotten class. Theirs is the desperation of those who have nothing to lose, of an underclass who have only the vaguest recollection of self-respect and just treatment for others and themselves. For the armblankes (poor whites), she shows, notions of superiority were built on nothing but the detritus of another culture and the promises of betterment peddled in the weak Romanticism of blood-and-soil nationalism byoudentlik (proper, middle class) Afrikaners, empty illusions described by Treppie as, "the fine print of fuck-all."

Although Triomf is a startlingly comic yet salutary reminder of the sustenance racism gives to class inequalities, it stops short of representing the social rehabilitation of South Africa's poor whites. In what is possibly the first truly post-apartheid novel by a white writer deserving the description, Van Niekerk opts wisely to leave the hopes of reconciliation beyond the boundaries of her fictional excavation of the suburbs of truth.--Rachel Holmes

From Booklist

In the 1950s, at the height of apartheid, the government bulldozed the multiracial community of Sophiatown in Johannesburg, renamed it Triomf (Afrikaans for Triumph), and resettled it with whites only. This story is about one poor Afrikaans family living there in a house built on the rubble in 1993, on the eve of the democratic election. Ignorant, desperate, inbred for generations, they take care of each other, or try to. Lambert is epileptic. He wants a woman for his fortieth birthday, and Mom, Pop, and his older brother help him. The book is much too long, but the humor is dark, the mixed metaphors are hilarious, and the translation from the Afrikaans is spot-on, capturing the voice of the "white trash" family in all its coarseness and humanity. Everything stays the same. Only worse. You think you guess the family secrets, but they are beyond even that. Bones are broken. Everyone is crippled. But it's the enduring tenderness that tears you apart. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
This novel is simply put - unforgettable. Although, some may find this work disturbing and very uncomfortable to read, I was completely drawn into the dysfunction and hopelessness of the Benade family. Van Nierkerk brilliantly positions Afrikaaner politics against the hopes and dreams of one of the most bizarre families you'll ever meet.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Not for the Faint of Heart Oct. 10 2005
By Constant Reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Months after reading Triomf I can still close my eyes and like Dorothy clicking her heels, am quickly transported to heat, poverty, opressive depression and the sense of something really grimy nagging at the corners of my soul.

When someone chooses a book in order to visit another place I don't imagine this is the "where" many are after. The author - and translator - have managed a perfect journey, not very pretty, into the world of a South African version of poor white trash. The characters' lives are like the town they live in - built on destruction with God know what lying rotting under the surface. As I read I was almost desperate to find something, anything, to like about the characters. The few moments when that happened were rain in the desert. Sweet, relieving, and over very quickly.

This book is a slice of life written well enough to make it quite real. The question here is if you want to go where Marlene van Niekerk takes you.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Another step to understanding the reality of South Africa Sept. 22 2009
By Frieslander - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Van Niekerk creatively takes us into the sad reality of apartheid through the eyes of a poor white trash family from Johannesburg. I appreciated the dark humor used while portraying this dysfunctional family- ultimately the end result of almost 50 years of a government that didn't work.
By sarafenix - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very well written and topical since the death of Mandela. I would recommend this for anyone studying the effects of racism and the impact that continue to be topical.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
feeling ugly Aug. 4 2005
By R. Ludbrook - Published on
Format: Hardcover
There is value in reading this book. It is a peek into a different world, but it was not worth the bad feelings that lingered every time I put the book down.
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Frustrating Feb. 19 2007
By E. Imholz-Nueesch - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am a great admirer of Nelson Mandela and read anything that I can get my hands on about South Africa. I bought this book in the Dutch version but it was one big struggle to finish. There is really nothing that I liked about this book. I found the language ugly, repetitive and more of the same all the way through. I could not recognize anything lovable about the 4 characters of this family nor feel any compassion with the way they live their life. Maybe I am too naive or too spoiled but I completely failed to recognize the essence and quality of this novel.