The Road of Excess (Ingrid Winterbach’s Die Benederyk)


The Road of Excess (2014) is my English translation of Ingrid Winterbach’s multi-prizewinning novel, Die Benederyk (2010), a tragi-comic treatment of excess and addiction set against the backdrop of absurd social phenomena in the postapartheid milieu of a demotic Durban.

Leading scholar Michael Titlestad, in his review of The Road of Excess in The Times, comments: “It is difficult not to be entranced by [Winterbach’s] aesthetic. The Road of Excess is an important addition to the list of Winterbach’s translated works.” Click here to read Titlestad’s review. In a searching review for the Mail & Guardian, Jane Rosenthal writes that “The novel has been mellifluously translated by Leon de Kock. Clearly the original was extraordinary, and he has kept it fluent and elegant, not surrendering any of its intelligent complexity, density, power and humour.” Click here to read Rosenthal’s review.

My own piece on the book, written for the South African Sunday Times, can be read here. See also Kayang Gagiano’s review in the Cape Times, and Bibi Slippers’s discussion on Litnet.

In Love’s Place (Etienne van Heerden’s In Stede van die Liefde)

In Love's Place lr

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Etienne van Heerden’s novel, In Stede van die Liefde (2005, transl. 2013) literally, “In Cities of Love”, with the twist that in Afrikaans, “In stede van” – “in cities of” – also means “instead of”) was a major mid-to-late-career novel of transnational dimensions by this celebrated Afrikaans writer. Entitled In Love’s Place in my translation, the novel’s rendering into English was an intricate task of prose styling which involved several years of sustained work.

Writing in the Pretoria News, Reneé Conradie comments:

Upon reading this masterpiece of Van Heerden in Afrikaans, this reader was under the spell of his command of language. Under the expert hand of translator Leon de Kock, none of this impression is tarnished and one is still compelled to reread passages for the magnificence of the prose. From the title In Love’s Place that also suggests a subtle double meaning as In Stede van die Liefde, this English version never loses the rhythm and the lilt of the original. [Full review not available online.]

For further reviews and an extract from the novel, please click on the cover picture above.

Triomf (Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf).

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Marlene van Niekerk’s revolutionary Afrikaans novel, Triomf, was first published in 1994 (transl. 1999) and subsequently won several major literary prizes. Written in a mixed argot of low-class Afrikaans peppered with slang and low-life English, this fictional tour de force was regarded, for several years after its publication in Afrikaans by Queillerie in Cape Town, as largely untranslatable. However, in 1997 the author, who had been a colleague of mine at UNISA and who had just a few months earlier  reviewed my volume of poems, Bloodsong, for the cultural magazine De Kat, approached me and asked me if I would consider taking on the challenge of  rendering Triomf in English. I took the novel home, re-read it, and was so blown over by the sheer force of the narration that I decided to accept the challenge.

I took the Triomf translation project away with me on a sabbatical visit in 1997-8 to the small town of Westport in Massachusetts, near Boston. Officially, I was a visiting scholar in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but I spent most of this time completing the first draft of the Triomf translation. After returning to my job at the University of South Africa in 2008, I continued working on the translation for another eight months before finally relinquishing the text to publishers Jonathan Ball in Johannesburg, and Little, Brown & Co in London (in two different versions, a mixed-language version for South African readers, and an ‘Anglicised slang’ version for international readers).

I have published two critical articles on the process of translating Triomf (click on cover image of Triomf, above, for access to these articles). In the year 2000 I was awarded the South African Translators’ Institute Award for Outstanding Translation for the Triomf translation.

Joe Nel reviews the English translation of Triomf in Beeld, 9 August 1999. Click here to view.

Cecile Celliers reviews the English translation of Triomf in Rapport, 4 July 1999. Click here to view.

Intimately Absent

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Intimately Absent (2009) is my translation of Cas Vos’s cycle of poems on the Abelard and Heloise saga of doomed love. The following gloss  on the Abelard and Heloise story  is taken from the published “Notes” at the end of Intimately Absent:

Peter Abelard, or Petrus Abaelardus in Latin (1079–1142), is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century. He was a philosopher, theologian, scholar of ethics, poet, hymnologist, composer, singer and rhetorician.

Heloise (1090–1163/64) was schooled in Paris. She was proficient in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. She was also a poet. When, as a young woman, she was living under the roof of her uncle, the abbot Fulbert, she and Abelard fell in love. A child, Astralabe, was born of this passion. Fulbert orchestrated an attack on Abelard, during which Abelard was emasculated.

Although Abelard remained the abbot of St Gildas until his death in 1142, he spent many years in Paris in the decade of 1130, and he set up his school on the heights of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. Heloise eventually became abbess of the Paraclete, an abbey established by Abelard. It was during this time that their famous love letters, Epistolae Duorum Amantium, were written. Astralabe (1117/1118–?) was born out of the relationship.

Fanie Olivier reviews Intimately Absent in Tonight! (Independent Newspapers) at


Duskant die Donker / Before it Darkens

[Click on the picture for a selection, from the book, of poems and their translations]
This book (Protea Book House, 2011) is a collection of poems by Cas Vos which I have freely translated into English. The book presents the Afrikaans poems on the left-hand page and the translations on the right, making the reading experience – for those who can read both English and Afrikaans – an experience of dialogic interaction.
Bernard Odendaal reviews Duskant die Donker / Before it Darkens on Versindaba at
TT Cloete reviews Duskant die Donker / Before it Darkens in Beeld at
Marlies Taljaard reviews Duskant die Donker / Before it Darkens in Rapport at
Zandra Bezuidenhout reviews Duskant die Donker / Before it Darkens in Die Burger. Click here to view.