Karina Szczurek was born in Jelenia Góra, Poland, and lived in Austria, the United States and Wales before settling in Cape Town in 2005. She was married to one of South Africa’s most celebrated and controversial authors, André P. Brink, for 10 years until his death in 2015.
A talented author in her own right, Karina holds a PhD in English and America Studies from the University of Salzburg and is well known for her memoir The Fifth Mrs Brink, which she published in 2017.
A well-regarded editor and award-winning playwright, Karina also writes poetry, short stories, essays and book reviews. She published her first novel in 2014. Her work has appeared in various publications locally and abroad.
COLLEEN PAGE caught up with Karina over coffee and chatted to her about her new book, You Make Me Possible: The Love Letters of Karina Szczurek and André Brink.
Q. Why did you choose to publish a selection of your early correspondence with André Brink?
A. I actually never intended to publish the letters and while we were corresponding there was never a feeling that they would ever be published.
The decisive moment was at a tribute to André, in Stellenbosch, after his death. I wanted to contribute something that was uniquely personal and so I decided to read something which he wrote to me in those letters. It was significant in the sense that the day of the tribute was also the 10th anniversary of our meeting in Paris and this book is about that meeting.
Afterwards, my publisher from Protea approached me and asked if I would consider publishing the correspondence but at the time I was in such a state, I couldn’t even think of looking at the letters. Then I wrote my memoir, The Fifth Mrs Brink, which was published in 2017 and the reception of the memoir was amazing. A few months later I decided it was time to look at our correspondence. I went back to the letters and the moment I started reading them I realised how beautiful they were and that I wanted to share them.
Another reason for publishing the letters is my intention to establish a literary prize in André’s honour and the royalties from this book will be used to establish that prize.
Q. The correspondence was the start of a beautiful love story between you and André. Was it saddening to go back and read the letters again knowing that André is forever gone?
A. Not at all. When I wrote the memoir, the entire process of grieving and remembering had been tough but going back to these letters proved to be the exact opposite. I felt an incredible sense of joy about being able to experience them again. While reading them I actually laughed and thought, “What are these crazy people doing? This is madness, it’s never going to work.” But it did, and it was magical.
Q. How was André different, if at all, in his correspondence with you compared to his correspondence with Ingrid Jonker in ‘Vlam in die Sneeu’?
A. I’m not sure I ever thought about that. Maybe he wasn’t that different because in both situations he was a man in love. The love he was searching for then was probably similar to the love he was searching for 40 years later. While corresponding with Ingrid Jonker he was married and had a new baby so that made the situation very different but he was free to be with me and together we discovered that everything we thought love could be became a reality.
Q. Do you think you could ever love somebody as much as you loved André?
A. I hope so. I am still growing and perhaps it’s not a question of loving someone else as much, but differently, and maybe even better. I hope so because if everything goes well I still have a few decades to live.
Q. Did André teach you a lot about writing?
A. I think everything that I know about writing professionally comes from André. Experiencing life with a writer who was as established and recognised as he was, gave me an idea of the practical side of what it means to be a writer. Also, although the talent I have is different to what André had, he always encouraged it. He supported my writing and was my mentor.
Q. Looking ahead, do you have any ideas for new books?
A. Too many. My problem is that I have too many ideas and I’m not too consequent about realising most of them. There is always something happening, and 2019 is going to be a huge year for me. I have manuscripts that are completed, I’m working on one, I’m planning to do exciting things in a different direction and there’s going to be the literary prize. There is a lot coming.
Books written by author Karina M. Szczurek.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colleen Page is a chartered accountant with a keen interest in writing: this bean-counter thanks her lucky stars for the books that fill every shelf in her home. When she isn’t reading or writing, Colleen can be found in the nearest swimming pool or running with her dogs. She loves a braai with friends in her beautiful garden, which is her pride and joy.
Colleen is a recent graduate of the Writing Articles for Websites and Blogs Course at SA Writers College.