Brent Meersman

Reviews

 “Possibly a first for South Africa…I have to confess of being a little jealous that Meersman has scooped me by producing this rather naughty book…It is witty and serious at once”

Donwald Pressly, Business Report,  October 15, 2007 – Primary Coloured paints politics of rainbow nation in bold shades

“Political egos will go into overdrive after reading Brent Meersman’s incisive political satire Primary Coloured…you can expect non-fictional sparks to fly.”

Barry Ronge, The Sunday Times Magazine,  December 9, 2007 – ‘Spit ‘n Polish Exposing’
 

“arguably South Africa’s first political satire and thriller…Primary Coloured gives the reader an unflinchingly honest glimpse of what really goes on in the Marks Building in Parliament…It’s a racy, gripping read that still manages to reveal plenty about the behind-the-scenes workings of the political system.”

Anél Powell, The Cape Times, October 26, 2007 – ‘Racy fictious tale of SA politics rings true’

“Primary Coloured offers ordinary readers an all too rare glimpse and understanding of the political process that swirl beneath the headlines. The author’s ear for dialogue is superb and his commentary and analysis of the contemporary political landscape is astute, informed and at times highly entertaining…Primary Coloured is an important addition to the South African political writing in that it provides a uniquely intimate and accurate portrait of our young democracy in all its gory glory.”

Marianne Thamm, The Mail & Guardian, November 9, 2007 –‘Where there’s smoke, there’s mirrors’

“Meersman has included enough subterfuge and intrigue to make one’s head spin. he does so, however, never losing control of his material or a sense of his characters’ humanity. The novel also contains wonderful satirical scenes which balance its more chilling elements…It’s a must read for those who enjoy intelligent suspense fiction.”

Kayang Gagiano, Sawubona Magazine, February, 2008 – ‘Primary Coloured a savvy political thriller is an absolutely riveting read’

‘It all adds up to an amusing, frothy thriller that delineates electioneering, backstabbing, politics and power in the new South Africa…While those in the know have been playing spot-the-person-and-the-event in the book, in something of a reversal, the author is intrigued by how real life seemed to intrude on his fictional account.’

Chiara Carter, The Sunday Independent, November 25, 2007 – ‘Frothy thriller smudges the borders of reality’

Review in: World Literature Today, September 2008

The plot of a new book revolves around high-level government corruption, personal smear campaigns, political espionage, and conspiratorial assassination. Sound like the latest American novel of political intrigue? It very well could be, but these plot devices instead are employed to great effect in an amusing and enlightening journey through contemporary South African politics in Brent Meersman’s Primary Coloured: A Novel of Politics.

The honorable Charlene Kennedy, MP, the heroine of the novel, is a former liberation-struggle leader now heading up her own party–the Social Democrats–that is attempting to take on both the ruling party and official opposition in upcoming elections. Charlene has an unruly temper that she often unleashes on her staff, but her commitment to speak truth to power and unorthodox political style has attracted a loyal contingent of idealistic supporters. The main protagonist is her campaign manager, Joel Maritz, a former theater producer who likens the political arena to the stage he recently left behind. “You write scripts, politicians perform them, you get the newspaper crits in the morning,” Joel wryly comments-and he thinks he has found a hit.

Much like the American novel of a similar title, Primary Coloured is a thinly veiled depiction of a real-life political campaign; that of MP Patricia de Lille and her Independent Democrats in the run-up to the 2004 South African general elections. Meersman, theater writer for the Mail & Guardian and former theater producer, was de Lille’s chief of staff when she left the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) to form her own party, which increased its presence in parliament from one to seven seats in 2004. As you can guess, reading the book is a bit like talking in pig Latin: everyone knows who you are talking about; it just takes a bit longer to figure it out.

The novel is worth the read for sheer entertainment value alone, but it is deserving of a closer look for its ability to effortlessly portray the problems and promise facing South African citizens without beating you over the head with statistics and lengthy reports. In the course of the novel’s 396 pages, Meersman hits on nearly every major issue facing the country today, including corruption, AIDS, freedom of the press, land reform, crime, and, of course, race relations.

A possible critique of Primary Coloured is that the number of characters and breadth of issues they face is too expansive to allow Meersman to develop any of them sufficiently. Such a critique may just as well be a strength of the book; the reader feels as beleaguered as the characters, who have no choice but to address as best they can the numerous hurdles of contemporary South African politics.

Primary Coloured reveals a country growing into the institutions and processes characteristic of any democratic state. In so doing, Brent Meersman’s book is at once a healthy criticism and an amusing celebration of South Africa’s young democracy.

Donald L. R. Goodson
University of the Witwatersrand

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