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Plagiarism, South Africa, and termites

The Plague

David Van Reybrouck

While working on his thesis on prehistoric archaeology, David Van Reybrouck came across the accusation that the Belgian writer and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck had plagiarised from the work of the South African author, journalist and physicist Eugène Marais, in his book ‘La vie des termites’ (1926).

He decided to investigate the case himself. His quest led him from Maeterlinck’s archive in Belgium, via a collector of Maeterlinck paraphernalia, libraries, the internet and mountains of reading material to South Africa itself, where he picked up Marais’ trail.

A talented writer, original and funny, who is definitely one to watch
Le Monde

Van Reybrouck immersed himself in the lives of Maeterlinck and Marais, and in contemporary South Africa. ‘The Plague’ skilfully interweaves his findings with socioeconomic and political information, with details of artistic fashions and the spirit of the time in which the two authors lived, finally placing it all in the context of cultural history and scientific developments.

‘The Plague’ sweeps the reader along in a thrilling literary adventure, which leaves its image on the mind’s eye long after the last page has been turned.

A remarkable and daring book
De Volkskrant
Charlie Hebdo
‘Literary detective story with a superb narrative’
Nicol Stassen, Afrikaans publisher Protea

‘It was Leon Rousseau who advised me to read ‘The Plague’ by David van Reybrouck. Rousseau wrote a biography of Eugène Marais (Die groot verlange/The Dark Stream), which played an important role in Van Reybrouck’s book. Rousseau’s work is generally considered to be one of the best biographies ever written of a South African figure, so his recommendation wasn’t to be taken lightly. South African newspapers also published several favourable reviews of the original Dutch version, which also helped convince me.

It turned out to be a tremendous book in every respect. David is drawn into the complex political situation of an emerging modern South Africa. The result is a literary detective story into which intellectual discourse, fictive elements, faction, travelogue and a confrontation with the future of Africa flow together to create a single superb narrative.

Protea Boekhuis has already published more that 120 Afrikaans translations of Flemish and Dutch authors. The linguistic and cultural ties between Flemish, Dutch and Afrikaans make this only logical. But of all the Flemish titles we have ever published, ‘The Plague’ was the first. And it remains one of the most important to the present day.’