Cover image for Dog heart : a memoir
Dog heart : a memoir
Breytenbach, Breyten.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace, [1999]

Physical Description:
197 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PT6592.12.R4 Z465 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Breyten Breytenbach's meditations are informed by a profound intelligence and wit and an overriding sense of the past. He is captivated by memories of the land that is no more, of the child he must have been. Breytenbach begins Dog Heart with his own beginning in Bonnievale, South Africa, and looks at his homeland through the prism of memory to uncover a new landscape. We read of the ouvolk, the moon and stars and trees and shrubs and rocks that are really petrified shamans, subterranean travelers, death dancers who change themselves into rocks to become invisible to those who invade the land. Then over time they forget to change back. Through searching honesty and dreamlike lyricism, Breytenbach raises the memoir to a new level.

Author Notes

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH was born in Bonnievale, South Africa, and currently divides his time between France, Spain, Senegal, and New York City. He teaches in the Creative Writing Department at New York University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Jailed for sabotage under apartheid and then exiled for many years, the Afrikaans poet Breytenbach has never fit in with any group. In earlier memoirs and essays, such as Return to Paradise (1993), much of his focus was on apartheid politics. Here he returns to the new South Africa with his wife and child in search of his childhood roots in the heartland of the rural Western Cape. And, of course, he finds both home and exile. He writes in scattered vignettes, mixing personal memory, museum archive, family folklore, and social commentary. He is as bitter about present corruption and violent crime as about apartheid's "morose clowns of racial superiority." At times, he's more portentous than deep ("the only unchanging thing is change"), and his ironic, curmudgeonly voice can get tiresome, especially when he sneers at Nelson Mandela or when he speaks with affectionate patronage of the drunken rural Coloured (mixed-race) clowns. However, he honors his own mixed-race ancestry, which he traces back to Dutch landowners, Khoisan nomads, and black slaves. It is in his lyrical evocation of place, the particulars of rock, mountain, sky, animals, and plants, that he speaks most eloquently about the search for home. His final heartfelt plea for the preservation of the Afrikaans language (even while he acknowledges the dangers of exclusion and separateness) is sure to fuel the current debates about multiculturalism in South Africa and everywhere. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

If any South African writer's fragmentary meditations are worth reading, those by BreytenbachÄthe essayist (The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, etc.), poet, painter and ex-revolutionary who is still a renegade AfrikanerÄare in the front rank. Long based in Paris, he has repeatedly returned to his beloved home territory in the rural Cape Province for brief periods, eliciting this mix of reportage and reflection. Those who know South Africa can fill in the political and geographical context; others may find many passages cryptic. For the former group, Breytenbach is an unsparing observer, unwilling to blame the country's endemic violence on historic racism. True, an opening anecdote notes how "the [white] security dogs" once harassed a clergyman, but threaded through the book is a gruesome blotter of crimes committed by the black and the brown. The contemporaneous passagesÄincluding visits with friends and relatives and some utterly South African encounters, as when an old man on the street asks "what race am I?" or when the author meets homeless beach dwellers whose patriotic "installation" reminds him of a graveÄcontrast with Breytenbach's more distanced reflections on family forebears. Throughout, the writing is artful and some passages soar: "People are trapped in the sad slanting light washing over the country like ants in treacle." Although not a full-scale view of the New South Africa, this installment in Breytenbach's continuing portrait of self and land offers a multitude of piercing, if idiosyncratic, observations. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

South African poet and novelist Breytenbach (The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution) presents an unusual memoir composed of seemingly unrelated sketches and memories. Returning to his homeland from France, where he has lived since being released from prison in 1982 (he had been sentenced as a member of the anti-apartheid African National Congress), Breytenbach goes to Bonnieville, his birthplace; the town and its environs trigger a flood of memories about his childhood, especially his connection to nature and the various people who inhabited his world. Making only a few tangential references to race, Breytenbach writes more as mystical lyricist than as a polemicist with an ax to grind. Beautifully written, if somewhat confusing; recommended for major college and public libraries.ÄAnthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.