Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Actes Sud releases 'Le Fléau' by David Van Reybrouck

(The cover of Le Fléau, the French translation of De Plaag, the award winning debut of David Van Reybrouck.)

Actes Sud has released Le Fléau by David Van Reybrouck. De plaag was also published in Afrikaans by Protea in 2003. Van Reybrouck is one of the leading voices of contemporary Dutch literature. His debut novel The shadow cast (Slagschaduw) was published in 2007 by Meulenhoff/Manteau. The novel reached the longlist of the Gouden Uil Literatuurprijs and the Librisprijs.

Currently, Van Reybrouck is working on a collection of poetry and a history of Congo.

Le Fléau: looking for Maurice Maeterlinck

De plaag sweeps the reader along in a thrilling literary adventure, which leaves its image on the retina of the mind’s eye long after the last page has been turned. While working on his thesis on prehistoric architecture, David van Reybrouck comes across the accusation that the Belgian writer and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck had plagiarised from the work of the South African author, journalist and physicist Eugène Marais, in his book La vie des termites (1926). He decides to investigate the case himself. Why did Maeterlinck write about insects? Are their indications that he was familiar with Marais’ work? His quest leads him from Maeterlinck’s archive in Belgium, via a collector of Maeterlinck paraphernalia, libraries, the Internet and mountains of reading matter to South Africa itself, where he picks up Marais’ trail. In an inhospitable area to the north of Pretoria, where Marais, meanwhile addicted to drugs and suffering from depression, had retired in 1906 to observe and write about baboons and where he finally committed suicide, the hunter finds himself treading on the tail of the hunted. He stumbles on a collection of old medicine bottles that make Marais’ tragic life highly tangible.

The new South Africa

In this animated account of his scientific and journalistic odyssey, David van Reybrouck immerses himself in the lives of Maeterlinck and Marais and ploughs through documentation on ants and termites. He skilfully interweaves his findings with socio-economic and political information, with details of artistic fashions and the spirit of the time in which the two authors lived, finally placing it all in the context of cultural history and scientific developments. His most sobering confrontation is with the new South Africa; a land forced to rediscover itself after the ANC’s assumption of power in 1994 and still faced with seemingly insoluble problems and contradictions. His courage sometimes fails him when the futility of his enterprise in this light becomes apparent and, like Marais, he is occasionally overwhelmed by a sense of transience and despair.

On ants and humans

De plaag steers a course between a literary study, a historical scientific essay, an adventure story and an unusual travel report, written in an exceptionally enthralling style. David van Reybrouck surprises his reader with unexpected links and parallels between his various subjects, such as the organisation of the termite hill and the construction of a human society. The termite hill has long been a useful literary metaphor, he remarks. For the human body, for example. Along the way, the reader sees the book itself grow into an anthropological metaphor for life itself, in which the majority of the individual elements prove to be interrelated.

No comments: