The Contemporary South African Trauma Novel: Michiel Heyns’ Lost Ground (2011) and Marlene van Niekerk’s The Way of the Women (2008)

Ewald Mengel 1
  • 1 Tomas Bata University, Zlin , Austria
Ewald Mengel


After the end of apartheid in 1990 and the new constitution of 1994, the genre of the contemporary South African novel is experiencing a heyday. One reason for this is that, with the end of censorship, the authors can go about unrestraint to take a critical look at the traumatized country and the state of a nation that shows a great need to come to terms with its past. In this context, trauma and narration prove to be a fertile combination, an observation that stands in marked contrast to the deconstructionist view of trauma as ‘unclaimed’ experience and the inability to speak about it.

Michiel Heyns’ Lost Ground (2011) and Marlene van Niekerk’s The Way of the Women (2008) are prime examples of the contemporary South African trauma novel. As crime fiction, Lost Ground not only tells a thrilling story but is also deeply involved in South African politics. The novelist Heyns plays with postmodernist structures, but the real strength of the novel lies in its realistic milieu description and the analysis of the protagonist’s traumatic ‘entanglements’. The Way of the Women is mainly a farm novel but also shows elements of the historical novel and the marriage novel. It continues the process of the deconstruction of the farm as a former symbol of the Afrikaner’s pride and glory. Both novels’ meta-fictional self-reflections betray the self-consciousness of their authors who are aware of the symbolization compulsions in a traumatized country. They use narrative as a means of ‘working through’, coming to terms with trauma, and achieving reconciliation. Both novels’ complex narrative structures may be read as symbolic expressions of traumatic ‘entanglements’ that lie at the heart of the South African dilemma.

  • The American Psychiatric Association (ed.). 1980. American Psychiatric Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Pub.

  • Behr, Mark. 2009. Kings of the Water. London: Abacus.

  • Boehmer, Elleke. 2000. Bloodlines. Claremont: David Philip.

  • Boehmer, Elleke. 2012. “Permanent Risk: When Crisis Defines a Nation’s Writing”. In: Ewald Mengel and Michela Borzaga (eds.). Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel: Essays. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 29–46.

  • Borzaga, Michela. 2017. Trauma on the Move: A New Theoretical Approach for the Contemporary South African Novel. Unpublished Ph.D Dissertation, University of Vienna.

  • Briley, John. 1987. Cry Freedom: A True Story of Friendship. London: Penguin.

  • Brink, André. 1998. “Stories of History: Reimagining the Past in Post-Apartheid Narrative”. In: Carli Coetzee and Sarah Nuttall (eds.). Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa. Cape Town: Oxford University Press. 29–43.

  • Brink, Andre. 1999. Imaginings of Sand. San Diego, CA: Harvest.

  • Caruth, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Conrad, Joseph. 1902/1994. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin.

  • Cooppan, Vilashini. 2012. “Affecting Politics: Post-Apartheid Fiction and the Limits of Trauma”. In: Ewald Mengel and Michela Borzaga (eds.). Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel: Essays. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 47–63.

  • Crossley, Michele L. 2000. Introducing Narrative Psychology: Self, Trauma, and the Construction of Meaning. Buckingham: Open University Press.

  • DeSoto, Lewis. 2003. A Blade of Grass. New York: Harper Collins.

  • Fanon, Frantz. 1952/2008. Trans. Richard Philcox (Peau Noire, Masques Blancs). Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove.

  • Fanon, Frantz. 1961/2004. Trans. Richard Philcox (Les Damnés de la terre). The Wretched of this Earth. New York: Grove.

  • Fedler, Joanne. 2005. The Dreamcloth. Johannesburg: Jacana.

  • Felman, Shoshana and Dori Laub. 1992. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge.

  • Freud, Sigmund. 1984. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. In: Angela Richards (ed.). On Metapsychology. Harmondsworth. 275–338.

  • Freud, Sigmund. 1999. Das Unheimliche. In: Sigmund Freud. Gesammelte Werke, chronologisch geordnet. Ed. by Anna Freud et al., vol xii. Frankfurt a. M.: Fischer.

  • Freud, Sigmund. 2003. Trans. David McLintock. The Uncanny. London: Penguin.

  • Fugard, Lisa. 2005. Skinner’s Drift. London: Viking.

  • Herman, Judith. 1992. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.

  • Heyns, Michiel. 2011. Lost Ground. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.

  • Hutcheon, Linda. 1988. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge.

  • Hutcheon, Linda. 2006. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge.

  • James, Wilmot and Linda van de Vijver (eds.). 2000. After the TRC: Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press.

  • Jayes, Karen. 2012. For the Mercy of Water. Johannesburg: Penguin.

  • Kriel, Maja. 2004. Rings in a Tree. Cape Town: Kwela.

  • Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Krog, Antjie. 1999. Country of My Skull. London: Vintage.

  • LaCapra, Dominick. 2001. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Leys, Ruth. 2000. Trauma. A Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Link, Jürgen. 2013. “Diskurs, Interdiskurs, Kollektivsymbolik: Am Beispiel der aktuellen Krise der Normalität”. Zeitschrift für Diskursforschung 1.1: 7–23.

  • Mann, Susan. 2007. Quarter Tones. London: Harvill Secker.

  • Mda, Zakes. 2003. Heart of Redness. New York: Picador.

  • Nuttall, Sarah. 2009. Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

  • Nyoka, Mtutuzeli. 2004. I Speak to the Silent. Scotsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

  • Quayson, Ato. 2003. Calibrations: Reading for the Social. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Saayman-Hattingh, Heidi. 2011. “Understanding Cultural Identity and Visual Communication in the Appropriation of Iconic Photojouralism”. In: Design Education Forum of Southern Africa (ed.). The Sixth International DEFSA Conference Proceedings. 172182. [accessed 22 June 2019].

  • Schauer, Maggie, Frank Neuner and Thomas Elbert. 2005. Narrative Exposure Therapy: A Short-Term Intervention for Traumatic Stress Disorders after War, Terror, or Torture. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

  • Schonstein, Patricia. 2007. A Quilt of Dreams. London: Black Swan.

  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In: Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.). Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. 271313.

  • Turner, Jann. 2002. Southern Cross. London: Orion.

  • Van Niekerk, Marlene. 2008. Trans. Michiel Heyns. The Way of the Women. London: Abacus.

  • Van Wyk Smith, Malvern. 2001. “From Boereplaas to Vlakplaas: The Farm from Thomas Pringle to J.M Coetzee”. In: Chris van der Merve (ed.). Strangely Familiar: South African Narratives in Town and Countryside. Stellenbosch: Content Solutions Online. 17 36.

  • Wicomb, Zoe. 2001. David’s Story. New York: Feminist Press City of NY University.

  • Wilson, Richard. 2001. The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Zadok, Rachel. 2005. Gem Squash Tokoloshe. London: Pan Books.

Artikel kaufen
Erhalten sie sofort unbegrenzten Zugriff auf den Artikel.
Haben Sie den Zugang bereits erworben? Melden Sie sich bitte an.

Zugriff über Ihre Institution

Zeitschrift + Hefte

Die Anglia wurde 1878 von Moritz Trautmann und Richard P. Wülker begründet; sie ist damit die älteste anglistische Zeitschrift. Es erscheinen Aufsätze zur englischen Sprache und Sprachgeschichte, zur englischen Literatur des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, zur amerikanischen Literatur, zu den neuen Literaturen in englischer Sprache und zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft.