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

Abstract

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.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.

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