* The paperback publication of a significant literary debut from a striking new talent* Offers a fresh perspective on South African life: neither black nor rich white, but the forgotten in-betweens
This is the story of the four inhabitants of 127 Martha Street in the poor white suburb of Triomf. Living on the ruins of old Sophiatown, the freehold township razed to the ground as a so-called 'black spot', they await with trepidation their country's first democratic elections. It is a date that coincides fatefully with the fortieth birthday of Lambert, the oversexed misfit son of the house. There is also Treppie, master of misrule and family metaphysician; Pop, the angel of peace teetering on the brink of the grave; and Mol, the materfamilias in her eternal housecoat. Pestered on a daily basis by nosy neighbours, National Party canvassers and Jehovah's Witnesses, defenceless against the big city towering over them like a vengeful dinosaur, they often resort to quoting to each other the only consolation that they know; we still have each other and a roof over our heads. TRIOMF relentlessly probes Afrikaner history and politics, revealing the bizarre and tragic effect that apartheid had on exactly the white underclass who were most supposed to benefit. It is also a seriously funny investigation of the human endeavour to make sense of life even under the most abject of circumstances.
'Afrikaans author Marlene Van Niekerk lived for a time in Triomf, the white working class suburb of western Johannesburg built on the bulldozed rubble of Sophiatown, once one of black South Africa's cultural heartlands. Whilst gardening she kept digging up its remnants, just like one of the characters in her novel Triomf, which excavates the lives of the impoverished poor white culture that superseded it. Sophiatown boasted names like Masekela and Mandela amongst its cultural riches but the Benades family inhabit a far from triumphant world of cheap brandy and coke, kaput cars, irreparable fridges and broken political promises.
Mol, Treppie, Pop and Lambert Benades inhabit a crumbling government house that is all they own apart from each other. Mol, abused and ageing, is comforted only by her beloved mongrels, her numbed resilience as forlorn as her buttonless housecoat. Alienated, articulate Treppie, "a devil with a twist, a twisted devil", furiously turns his frustrated intellectual abilities against his family. Pop, shuffling bemusedly between sleep and waking, tries to remember his lies as he slips towards death. All of them protect the doltish, violent, voyeuristic Lambert, the epileptic progeny of parents who constantly reinvent fantasy stories, disguising a family secret that is a narrative time bomb waiting to explode into the heart of the novel. "We have each other and nothing else", is their refrain, a catchphrase for the survival of a demoralised family adrift from the tide of change, where incest has become a metaphor for the crooked logic of obsessive racial purity, just as the topographical layering of Triomf over Sophiatown becomes a guiding metaphor for the social architecture of apartheid.