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Langenhoven: 'n lewe.

J. C. Kannemeyer, the indefatigable historian of Afrikaans literature (see WLT 63:3, p. 526, and 69:1, p. 213) has now published a detailed biography of a historically important Afrikaans writer, C. J. Langenhoven (1873-1932). Langenhoven remains something of a cornerstone for Afrikaans literature. His many sincere and unpretentious prose works - he also wrote the words of "Die Stem," the South African national anthem until very recently - are still widely read and loved, but were much more so in the twenties and thirties. There was not much prose being written in Afrikaans then; with his "natural" albeit journalistic style, writing with great conviction as well as humor, he convinced his people that their language was capable of larger things. His writings were also a relief after the swollen Dutch prevalent up until then, so beloved by religious and political notables. His books, then, are largely "reader friendly" but not much of durable literary quality.

Langenhoven's importance and the interest of his story, however, lie in the great contribution he made in the struggle to have Afrikaans recognized as an official language alongside English, and to a reader of today it comes as a surprise that Dutch rather than English was the adversary to be overcome, even though the former was no longer spoken or widely understood, except by the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church. It is in the detailed unraveling of this conflict that the interest of Kannemeyer's biography resides. Langenhoven's championing of Afrikaans, fanatically seconded by his (Jewish) assistant and devotee Sarah Goldblatt, enabled the language to mature into the refined medium that it is today, an instrument also honed by such poets as Van Wyk Louw and Breytenbach.

Kannemeyer perhaps goes into too much detail in laying out the personal history of his subject, an area which, apart from Langenhoven's periodic bouts with alcohol and his steadfast, nonsexual attachment to Sarah Goldblatt, is not particularly interesting or enlightening. That, however, is the only serious flaw I find in his biography of this early-twentieth-century "lion."

Barend J. Toerien Cape Town
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Author:Toerien, Barend J.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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