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like one of the characters in her novel Triomf, which excavates the lives of the impoverished poor white culture that superseded it.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.
Triomf depicts apartheid racism with an uncompromising exactness that has sometimes been lost in white South African writing in English slanted towards a middle class perspective. As the Benades veer between aggressive passivity and directionless activity
Although Triomf is a startlingly comic yet salutary reminder of the sustenance racism gives to class inequalities, it stops short of representing the social rehabilitation of South Africa's poor whites. In what is possibly the first truly post-apartheid novel by a white writer deserving the description, Van Niekerk opts wisely to leave the hopes of reconciliation beyond the boundaries of her fictional excavation of the suburbs of truth.