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Marlene van Niekerk Wins Hertzog Prize for Agaat

Agaat Marlene van Niekerk and Michiel HeynsAlert! The Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns has awarded Marlene van Niekerk the 2007 Hertzog Prize for her novel, Agaat, published by Tafelberg. The award, sponsored by Rapport, is Afrikaans literature’s most prestigious.

It comes with a cash prize – but no one at Rapport or the Akademie seems to know what the amount is. BOOK SA has sent many of their respecitve minions scrambling around today for an answer, but they’ve all come back empty-handed. (Quite a palaver – if a BOOK SA reader knows the answer, please leave it as a comment.)

Fortunately for van Niekerk, her towering novel has ensured that she won’t go back to her writing desk empty-handed. Earlier this year, Agaat, in translation (published by Jonathan Ball), won the R75 000 Sunday Times Literary Award, arguably SA English literature’s highest filip. Van Niekerk is pictured here with translator Michiel Heyns, accepting the award from Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya.

The Hertzog Prize will be officially awarded tomorrow evening at the University of Stellenbosch.

Marlene van NiekerkAbout the book (publisher’s blurb)
Agaat deals with the relationship between a 67 year old white woma,n Milla (the first person narrator and focaliser) in the terminal stages of ALS (a motor neuron disease) and her coloured caretaker, Agaat.

The acute helplessness of the mute and completely paralysed patient (she can only communicate through eye movements) makes extraordinary demands of her caretaker. The “nurse”, only ever seen through the eyes of the patient, goes about her duties with a mixture of infinite tenderness, sadistic precision and a desperate and passionate undertow of anger about the past as well as sadness of the anticipated loss of her “mistress”. None of these feelings are explicit or articulate. Agaat mostly expresses herself in hackneyed phrases, proverbs, carefully stylized conversational turns and and allegorical applications of sections from do-it-yourself farming manuals and embroidery books.

Through flashbacks and lyrical intermezzos provided on other narrative planes of the novel, the history that leads up to this situation is revealed.

In her inimitable style, the author of Triomf has written an intensely moving and remarkable novel which pushes the boundaries of intimacy, love, violence and death.

Book Details


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 26th, 2007 @14:53 #

    Thanks to Marikie (sp?) of the Akademie for digging up the prize amounts - at last! The Hertzog Prize is sponsored to the tune of R22 000.

    But meanwhile, BOOK SA can report that van Niekerk and Agaat are also picking up the Akademie's CL Engelbrecht award - for the best work of Afrikaans literature, across all genres (the Hertzog prize is for prose only) - which is sponsored by ABSA to the tune of R10 000. So that's a R32 000 haul for van Niekerk en haar letterkundewerk!


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