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Experiences of a colonial civil servant

Gangrene 1 - Black Venus

Jef Geeraerts

In ‘Gangrene - Black Venus’, set in the Belgian Congo at the end of the 1950s, Geeraerts portrays a white colonial civil servant who wants to free himself from the oppression of Western bourgeois mentality.  In an evocative style, he describes the protagonist’s obsession for a black woman, leaving western civilisation behind and descending into an orgiastic, quasi-mystic way of life, combining ritual and instinct, violence and eroticism. His life consists of hunting, sleeping, eating, drinking and copulating: man in his most primitive state.

‘Black Venus’ is not just a colonial novel; it is also the story of a romantic ideal. It is about man’s longing to find paradise in nature, a place where he can experience his freedom to the full. Yet, Geeraerts also demonstrates the consequences of this freedom in a most ruthless manner.

Geeraerts’ sentences twist and twine across the pages like lightning-speed lianas
NRC Handelsblad

‘Black Venus’ is one of the most talked-about novels from post-war Flanders. The controversy surrounding the publication was astounding. Applauded as brilliant, then decried for ‘extolling of racism and pornography’; however shocked conformist Belgium might have been, no-one could really deny that seldom had a writer approached such a sensitive subject with such monumental daring. 

With his tornado prose, Geeraerts has broken the mould of the classical novel
De Standaard