How Can Fictional Stories Help People Deal With Real-Life Struggles An Instant In The Wind by Andre Brink

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An Instant In The Wind by Andre Brink

An Instant in the Wind is arguably Andre Brink’s masterpiece. In the guise of a historical novel set in the eighteenth century, Brink presents a brilliant portrait in miniature of the dilemmas and conflicts facing a South Africa organized by an assumption of apartheid. Unlike many tales of conflict, however, Instant in the Wind is not a tragedy. Paradoxically, the novel is a remarkable story of fear, struggle and ultimately survival that leaves the reader with an uplifting positive message on the value and potential of human cooperation. It is a historical novel, it is a travel book, it is a road story, it deals with relationships between consenting adults and there are several battles with nature. And it’s positive. What a mix!

The story revolves around just two people who are unknowingly thrown together. For most of the book’s duration, there is, literally, no one else, as the two principals wander across the desolate landscape in search of both safety and, ultimately, themselves. She is Elizabeth Larsen of the Cape, nee Louw. Elisabeth is married to a Swedish traveller, adventurer and aspiring scientist named Eric Alexis Larsen. Eric is bearded and rather matter-of-fact. He likes to catalog things, usually from a distance, a method he applies to his relationship with his wife. The husband is considerably older than the wife and their communication is not deep, their mutual understanding is even shallow.

The other, the ‘he’ of the story, is Adam Mantur, a runaway slave, a black man, even a brown man, perhaps, but certainly not a white man. And so, in the genre Elizabeth grew up in, he’s not even a man, but he can be something to be feared. He has a past that is partially revealed. There is certainly a story to be told about this life, but he is unwilling – or perhaps unable – to tell it. But what he is able to do is crucial to Andre Brink’s story: he can survive.

And so when Larson sets out beyond the Cape on his desired expedition of discovery destined for the interior, he must arrange for the transport and carriage of many chattels, the inventory of which is said to include his wife. Elizabeth is accustomed to domestic life and fears what may happen to them in what she sees as the wilderness. How will he cope? Probably neither is good.

The campaign did not go according to plan. There were internal strife, theft and assault. And then Eric Larsen disappears without a trace, leaving Elizabeth alone in the desert with a man she thinks is a barbarian, a runaway slave from a different race. Inevitably their predicament required their relationship, but initially Elizabeth assumed that related relationships could be maintained in ‘civilized’ society. He has a lot to learn. The track ahead of them to safety is terrifyingly long and they only have each other for support. The path is long, obscure and dangerous. There are hostile people and wild animals as well as some unsavory homesteads. There are rivers to traverse, deserts to cross, mountains to climb, little water and little food.

Elizabeth is initially revolted by Adam. She is terrified of him, and he is deeply suspicious, even afraid of her. But his knowledge is essential to their survival. She wants to return to the Cape, but a miscarriage and illness complicate things. He is afraid of what might happen to him when he returns to the Cape, because there is unfinished business around this man. They fight together, survive and gradually learn to live side by side and then depend on each other.

An Instant in the Wind is not a historical account. Facts about the actual people are non-existent, but their imagined story is nothing short of plausible and pure joy to narrate. In places, the reader almost feels thirst and hunger and feels all the danger. Similarly, Elizabeth and Adam’s growing joy also becomes almost palpable when they realize, though their races are apparently different, that their humanity is shared.

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