Breytenbach is a South African poet, novelist, and human rights activist who spent seven years in jail for fighting apartheid.The selections in Guernica—which read like flash fiction, but are a part of a novel—are astoundingly beautiful, but searing, too. I think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever edited. He also provided the illustration.
Here are the first few lines:
It was the evening before Xmas. White. Even the beards of trees were white. Wind walks sniffing over the snow. A thin wind. The trees shake their frozen arms the snow falls ploof in the snow. A rind of ice covers the Danube.
Our village was a small one. Eighteen hundred inhabitants. Everybody was gathered closely around the fireplaces. The small windows were like the yellow eyes of cats in the night. I remember. With our hands, we tried capturing the glow of flames in the hearth. Now and then we lifted our faces to peer upward. Listened with tilted heads at the wind sucking and groaning in the chimney (the wind a wolf trying to blow down the piglets’ house). Startled when chunks of snow slid down the roof to fall ploof in the snow. It was the evening before Xmas. White. My uncle was blowing on his mouth organ. Silent Night. My little brother’s head was nodding (he was only five). His head was too heavy for the neck. He’d always been a coward my little brother.