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Praying Mantis by André Brink
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Praying Mantis (2005)

by André Brink

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The first and last part of this book are very impressive and beautifully written. The youth and old age of Cupido Cockroach, his strong character, his adventures and convictions are very convincing and a joy to read. I had a little more difficulty to read through the middle part of the book, which is not described by an all-knowing story-teller as part one and three, but by a fellow missionary. The end makes up for everything, the last two pages are just wonderful. ( )
  brusselsbook | Jun 25, 2008 |
Now this is a book that a really REALLY liked. Under the stars of southern france, I've read it frantically, this biography - a mixture of myth, fact and fiction - of Cupido Cockroach: hottentot, slave, free spirit, mythological hunter, womanizer, preacher who walks with god (be it a praying mantis or the christian equivalent). The book offers a wonderful journey in the stories of the first peoples of southern africa (bushmen and hottentots), and also lets you feel love and pain as if you are feeling it for your self. Brink is a true master of language, who evokes both people and landscape with his words. ( )
  tsutsik | Sep 1, 2007 |
Brilliantly written in vivid Afrikaans. It is a coming of age story with a historical background. The book is divided into 3 parts. The middle one is a bit dragged out, but the 1st and last ones more than make up for this. ( )
  pieterm | Jul 7, 2006 |
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But, considering that this is a novel about religious people, we find out curiously little about Cupido’s theology. Brink gives us the letters Cupido wrote to God (which have survived), but the man himself remains curiously opaque. It is the less whimsical and more historical sections dealing with the way in which the colonists mistreated the indigenous peoples which grasp the reader’s interest.
 
This is a book as much about apartheid and its consequences as it is about events in the Cape in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is equally a book about its author, whose life has been inseparable from struggle.
"There was," James Read concludes of the burnt, stone-strewn landscape on which he hopes to have made some mark, "an extraordinary, almost exultant, sense of being in a space suspended between heaven and hell, where one's presence, in some wholly inexplicable way, mattered." Brink conveys a genuine animation when he confronts ideas like this; and of the characters in the book, you feel that Read, puzzled Lutheran, speaks most often for André Brink, puzzled feminist, magic realist and tireless advocate of a new South Africa.
"In fighting against the weakness of others," Brink has him decide, "we became trapped within our own human weakness, blocking the way to so much more that we might have been." While it remains more than the historical record of Cupido Cockroach's entrapment and betrayal with which it began, Praying Mantis, too, never quite becomes what it should.
 
Based on the true story of the 18th-century Hottentot convert Kupido Kakkerlak, Brink's fable is a potent stew of bush wisdom and Christian dogma, in which Cupido's combative style leaves him penning angry missives to God complaining that even the cacti refuse to listen. Brink enlivens this cautionary tale of religious fundamentalism with magical flights of fancy, earthy humour and some exotic soap recipes, including one involving hippo fat, which promises to leave your laundry "not your everyday white, but white as the inside fibres of a sheep's best wool". Quite dazzling, in fact.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099488949, Paperback)

A magical novel from a world class writer about a remarkable historical figure.

In his early years, growing up on a Dutch farm in the deep interior of the southern African Cape, Cupido Cockroach became the greatest drinker, liar, fornicator and fighter of his region. Coming under the spell of the soap-boiler Anna, and under the influence of the great Dr Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp of the London Missionary Society, Cupido is made the first Khoi or ‘Hottentot’ missionary ordained at the Cape of Good Hope.

Received into the fold of the Church, Cupido passionately turns against all his early beliefs. After being drawn into the fierce struggle between the missionaries and the Dutch colonists, he rises to some prominence and is appointed as missionary in a remote and arid region in the North-western Cape. But this also marks the beginning of his decline, as the Society abandons him to his fate. One by one, the members of his congregation disappear into the desert, so that in the end, abandoned even by his wife and children, he is left to preach to the stones and thorn trees and tortoises, returning to the dream-world of his people.

In a heady mixture of comedy and tragedy, the real and the magical, and immersed in the ancient, earthy, African world of magic and dreams, Praying Mantis explores through the historical figure of Cupido Cockroach the origins of racial tension in the shadowlands between myth and history.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:16 -0400)

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Received into the fold of the Church, Cupido Cockroach passionately turns against all his early beliefs.

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