Julia Elizabeth Dahl
February 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Growing up dirt-poor in all-white Triomf, South Africa (a real town that the government purged of its black residents in the 1950s), would be tough for anyone. But for Lambert Benade, the dim-witted product of incest, it’s been a nightmare. He lives in squalor with his ”parents,” siblings Mol and Pop, and their unpredictable brother Treppie — who may actually be his biological father. Translated from Afrikaans by Leon de Kock, ”Triomf” unfolds over several months in 1994 as Lambert prepares to welcome the prostitute Treppie has promised him for his 40th birthday — and the country prepares for its first free elections. Despite its 500-page bloat, van Niekerk’s vivid portrait of a spectacularly dysfunctional family emerges as ultimately sympathetic.

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