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The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist

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A memoir of Breytenbach’s seven years in South Africa’s prisons - two of them in solitary confinement - this book captures the full horror of life in one of the worst penal systems in the world.


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A memoir of Breytenbach’s seven years in South Africa’s prisons - two of them in solitary confinement - this book captures the full horror of life in one of the worst penal systems in the world.

30 review for The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    A memoir of a poet who spent seven years in prison (two of which in solitary confinement) for "terrorism" during apartheid South Africa. If you want a straight "and then this happened, and then that happened" memoir, this is not it. Like I said, Breyten Breytenbach is a poet, and an obtuse one at that, but language is gorgeous, and having it the language so dense and feverish really gives you a feel for what is going on in someone's mind during such a harrowing experience. I also respect his A memoir of a poet who spent seven years in prison (two of which in solitary confinement) for "terrorism" during apartheid South Africa. If you want a straight "and then this happened, and then that happened" memoir, this is not it. Like I said, Breyten Breytenbach is a poet, and an obtuse one at that, but language is gorgeous, and having it the language so dense and feverish really gives you a feel for what is going on in someone's mind during such a harrowing experience. I also respect his position much more than other white liberals who said they were against apartheid. He definitely put his life on the line much more than other artists of the day. This book is not for everyone, but it's a good one.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Llull

    One of the most deep, impressive works of speculative (non)fiction coming out of the prison experience -- South Africa in this case. Breytenbach is a writer gifted with precise observation, explosive prose and deep emotional expanse. He is among my all time favorite writers, and a beautiful painter as well. If you like David Mitchell but want something more personal and at once more political, Breytenbach has the skillz. It's a wonder that he is relatively unknown still, but I would put him in One of the most deep, impressive works of speculative (non)fiction coming out of the prison experience -- South Africa in this case. Breytenbach is a writer gifted with precise observation, explosive prose and deep emotional expanse. He is among my all time favorite writers, and a beautiful painter as well. If you like David Mitchell but want something more personal and at once more political, Breytenbach has the skillz. It's a wonder that he is relatively unknown still, but I would put him in Nobel Prize territory. Like Mitchell, his prose is poetic; both know how to switch from infinite magical realism to haiku at a moment's notice. True Confessions is an inspiring book, but also a daunting one, as we are choosing to look at things that are quite simply hard to look at -- that is, the fate of the political prisoner. While Kafka's characters' brushes with the Law are highly metaphorical and bureaucratic, here we have a narrator of his powers doing it for real, dealing directly with the isolation, the wavering of hope, the loss, the repetition of innumerable days. Of a nine year sentence, Breytenbach ended up spending 7 years incarcerated, just for fighting earlier in his life against Apartheid and making the mistake of visiting his homeland again after his exile years in Paris. Also, if you like this, I would also recommend the book Mouroir, which serves in a sense as a dreamtime companion to this book, delving deeper into the freedom of the imagination, which no one can take away.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Like the Rosetta stone, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, is the key to understanding the infamous writer's prison poetry. The book itself has a fascinating history and records the poet's deepest thoughts and emotions as he "expels the darkness" of the violent and traumatic events during his time as an enemy of the state.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kallie

    For insight into the fascist mind and the prisons it creates, Breytenbach is one of the best writers ever. And one reads not a note of self-pity. Perhaps his genius for observation and poetics kept him sane.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I read the McGraw-Hill 1986 edition and was completely mesmerized by his fortitude, insight and talent.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Amazing, genre-bending reflection on the apartheid system, its paranoia, and its methods of crushing dissent. Breytenbach is an amazing writer, and thus, makes the book a fast, engaging read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James Proctor

    Excellent book. Prison memoirs are not my usual thing, but this one has unique appeal as the account of a white poet-revolutionary's 8-year stint in a South African prison during the flower of apartheid. A poison flower, exposed at the roots where criminals flourish. I shouldn't mislead by suggesting that this is an overt indictment of the segregationist tyranny of apartheid. It isn't, yet in every word there is protest, intelligence and beauty, all utilized to maintain a caged man's humanity. I Excellent book. Prison memoirs are not my usual thing, but this one has unique appeal as the account of a white poet-revolutionary's 8-year stint in a South African prison during the flower of apartheid. A poison flower, exposed at the roots where criminals flourish. I shouldn't mislead by suggesting that this is an overt indictment of the segregationist tyranny of apartheid. It isn't, yet in every word there is protest, intelligence and beauty, all utilized to maintain a caged man's humanity. I chose two passages that illustrate what for me is the most basic horrors of prison life: the social aspect and being cut off from your loved ones, two unbearable torments that I'm certain would have me foaming and stupid before the sun went down. The first is about the gangs that run the prison from within: The kring (the circle), the governing council, will decide upon a death. Once its decision has been carried out, parts of the body of the victim may be eaten ritualistically. (Pause here and consider how structuralized alienation has brought about a society of cannibals. These men eat human flesh as rats will devour each other -for similar reasons- and not because it has ever been 'traditional' anywhere. Don't try to shrug it off by saying 'they' are not like 'us'. Don't go and look for so-called Cultural so-called Differences... When you decide to release these confessions, Mr Investigator, you will have smoothly combed prison spokesmen denying en bloc the veracity of what I'm telling you. They will be sitting in smart offices, far away from the stinking death lying in the cells, and their civilized mouths will produce bureaucratic appeals to your 'understanding' -how frail is human nature!- by admitting to exceptions which have all been investigated, with the guilty ones punished. Will you be taken in? I'm telling you that what I'm describing is typical of that mirror which the South African penal universe holds up to the Apartheid society -and that it is inevitable. The second passage, lighter than the first, conveys the struggle of an artist dealing with artless overseers censoring letters he writes to his wife: Smoel left for the Island. Saayman took his place, a huge pig of a man, subservient to his superiors, bullying-violently, at times-the prisoners, but above all lazy and incompetent. He was also just a liar. His conception of censorship was to 'lose' the incoming letters, or to hold back mine and then to have me rewrite them to his specifications. I wrote to Yolande once lyrically praising the talents of some chocolatiers-Bernachon in Lyons, Corne de la Toison d'Or in Belgium, etc (it was getting on for Christmas, my mind was sweet with absences) and when she wrote back asking how I knew about these things I answered admitting that I'd always been an initiate of the Secret Order of Chocolate Lovers but that I could never tell her as it was supposed to be a secret. So Saayman launched an inquiry; he wanted to know exactly what 'politics' was hidden in these codes....

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Samorini

    Mi ha scosso ed emozionato, oltre a commuovermi. Nel consigliare o meno la lettura, mi vien d'aiuto la postfazione di Maria Teresa Carbone che ho trovato azzeccata e con cui mi sono identificato appieno, cui riporto un passaggio: «...Rinchiuso per sette anni, dal 1975 al 1982, nelle prigioni sudafricane per la sua militanza contro l'apartheid e liberato solo in seguito a una campagna cui presto parte intellettuali di tutti i paesi, Breytenbach proietta nel suo testo - al tempo stesso Mi ha scosso ed emozionato, oltre a commuovermi. Nel consigliare o meno la lettura, mi vien d'aiuto la postfazione di Maria Teresa Carbone che ho trovato azzeccata e con cui mi sono identificato appieno, cui riporto un passaggio: «...Rinchiuso per sette anni, dal 1975 al 1982, nelle prigioni sudafricane per la sua militanza contro l'apartheid e liberato solo in seguito a una campagna cui presto parte intellettuali di tutti i paesi, Breytenbach proietta nel suo testo - al tempo stesso testimonianza, atto d'accusa, libro di poesia - il tragico microcosmo carcerario contro il profilo chiuso del Sudafrica, il "mondo a parte" nel quale nessuno (non i neri ma neanche i bianchi al potere, prigionieri di un meccanismo perverso da loro stessi congegnato) è davvero libero. Ma descrivendo la sua condizione di detenuto in mezzo ad altri detenuti e ricorrendo all'unico strumento, la parola, che gli è dato usare - uno strumento dotato, Breytenbach lo sa bene, di immensi poteri e di seduzioni infinite - lo scrittore va ben oltre il resoconto delle vessazioni subite e dà vita a un universo di dolore e di solitudine e di prepotenza (e perfino, a volte, di gioie inattese), nel quale chiunque si può rispecchiare...»

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Wilson

    Breyten Breytenbach is the absolute master of observation better known for his poetry. He writes this book as a memoir of his time spent in prison without any regrets, hate, or judgement. Even though I am not totally for Breyten Breytenbach's views on politics, the apartheid system, or government of old, I can certainly appreciate his substantial talent. He did and does still remain a controversial character in what is called 'The Struggle' and certainly has the ability to make readers pay Breyten Breytenbach is the absolute master of observation better known for his poetry. He writes this book as a memoir of his time spent in prison without any regrets, hate, or judgement. Even though I am not totally for Breyten Breytenbach's views on politics, the apartheid system, or government of old, I can certainly appreciate his substantial talent. He did and does still remain a controversial character in what is called 'The Struggle' and certainly has the ability to make readers pay attention. Great book, brilliantly written. (I read the original Afrikaans version of this book)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Breytenbach’s chronicle of his experiences in the South African penal system at the height of apartheid has been a revelation in its depiction of a shocking absurdist moment in the history of humanity. His approach and style are wholly original, personal, yet resonant and ominous in regards to what they reveal about human nature.

  11. 5 out of 5

    lisa

    funny, I don't like his poetry - maybe it translates badly - but this is a nice prison memoir, as prison memoirs go. the way he writes about his wife is beautiful. (cf. especially the moment where he fights with his letter-censors about the proper translation into afrikaans of the french word for 'cunt.' love it!)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    The *only* nice South African ever, if spitting image are to be believed, & they're usually right to be honest.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Courtnay

  14. 5 out of 5

    Els Boot

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian William

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Armentrout

  18. 5 out of 5

    P

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anne Oostra

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janet

  22. 5 out of 5

    Astrid Dhaenens

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Corbett

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mk

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nguyen Santiago

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jakob

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joseph L

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ilse

  30. 5 out of 5

    Superserious

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