x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Social ties that do not bind

In Adriaan Van Dis’s novel Betrayal, two South African activists fight for economic equality in a coastal village.

Adriaan Van Dis is a well-established figure on the Dutch literary scene – he’s the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, the winner of numerous gongs, and has even been a talk show host, but few of his works have been translated into English.

This is a shame, as Betrayal, now published in translation by Ina Rilke, reveals a novelist at the top of his game, with a flair for characterisation and sparse but descriptive narrative.

Set in South Africa, Betrayal follows Mulder and Donald, anti-apartheid activists of old who resist what is effectively a state of economic apartheid in a coastal village where crime and social problems are all too evident.

Mulder is a man uncomfortable in his own skin, an outsider and a loner who attempts to help Donald rehabilitate a young drug addict. Mulder’s motives are misguided – “He could have been a father, if only he had dared. This would be his last chance” – and the social experiment doomed. Eventually, the men are forced to face their distrust of each other, mirrored in their own discontent at present-day South African society.