Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Breytenbach, Breyten
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(brī'tӘn brī'tӘnbäkh), 1939–, South African writer, painter, and activist. Although he is from a distinguished Afrikaner family, he soon became a committed opponent of apartheid. He left South Africa in 1960, settling in Paris in 1962. Breytenbach's first literary works were poems, many expressing his political views, and he is widely recognized as the finest living poet of the Afrikaans language. His verse volumes include Die ysterkoei moet sweet (1964; The Iron Cow Must Sweat) and Voetskrif (1976; Footscript). Some of his most notable early poetry was published in English translation in In Africa Even the Flies Are Happy: Selected Poems 1964–1977 (1977). Many of Breytenbach's prose works are written in English.

When he returned to his homeland for a clandestine visit in 1975, he was arrested, charged under the Terrorism Act, and jailed for seven years. Out of this experience came the semifictional Mouroir: Mirrornotes of a Novel (1983, tr. 1984) and The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (1985), a harrowing account of his imprisonment that is his best-known work. Breytenbach returned to Paris after his release from prison in 1982. He has written vivid accounts of three different returns to South Africa, the haunting A Season in Paradise (1976, tr. 1980), the apprehensive yet hopeful Return to Paradise (1993), and the memoir Dog Heart (1999), in which he makes an identity-seeking journey into his past while expressing bitter disappointment with his postapartheid homeland. Breytenbach is also known for his paintings, many of which portray surreal animal and human figures, often in captivity. Breytenbach has continued to write poetry; notable examples from 1964 to 2006 are included in Windcatcher (2007).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Breytenbach, Breyten (1939-)
Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English

South African poet, novelist Born in the Western Cape, he studied fine art at Cape Town University. He was exiled in Paris from 1960, where he...

See more from Credo