Original Research

The ghost of Afrikaner identity in Ancestral voices, Leap year and The long silence of Mario Salviati (Etienne van Heerden)

Mariëtte van Graan
Literator | Vol 38, No 2 | a1339 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i2.1339 | © 2017 Mariëtte van Graan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 August 2016 | Published: 28 April 2017

About the author(s)

Mariëtte van Graan, School of Languages, North-West University, South Africa


Ghost characters are a characteristic of the novels of Etienne van Heerden, but little research has been done concerning the nature and function of these ghost characters. In this article I discuss Van Heerden’s use of ghost characters diachronically with reference to the novels Ancestral voices (1986), Leap year (1993) and The long silence of Mario Salviati (2000). In order to clarify the nature of these ghosts, I use the so-called science of the paranormal as a framework. The ghosts in the three novels will be classified accordingly, and then discussed within the context of the novels in which they appear. In this way, I shall show how the ghost characters in these novels can be read as a constantly changing embodiment of Afrikaner identity (a central theme in Van Heerden’s oeuvre). Van Heerden’s Afrikaner changes with the times: in Ancestral voices the ghost characters form a collective that represents a fragmented image of the stereotypical, archaic male Afrikaner identity; in Leap year a liminal character is written in a liminal time to embody a liminal Afrikaner identity; and in The long silence of Mario Salviati Van Heerden moves away from the exclusive Afrikaner identity to a broader South African identity by using ghost characters from very different backgrounds and origins. In conclusion I shall compare these identities and the historical contexts of these novels in order to show the function of Van Heerden’s ghost characters as constant rewritings of South African identities.


Ghost character; identity; group forming; master signifier; liminality; history; Etienne van Heerden; Ancestral voices; Leap year; The long silence of Mario Salviati


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