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Fiction

November 22, 1987|Michael Harris

RAGE by Wilbur Smith (Little, Brown: $19.95; 627 pp.).

This is the sixth novel in Wilbur Smith's saga of the Courtney clan of South Africa. It covers the decade leading up to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the assassination of Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. Ambitious Shasa Courtney, heir to a mining fortune, abandons the English-speaking opposition in Parliament to join the Nationalist Party and enters an uneasy alliance with his Afrikaner half-brother, Manfred De La Rey, the minister of police. Shasa's wife, Tara, runs off with Moses Gama, a black revolutionary, and has a child by him. The hardening of apartheid and the struggle against it corrupt everyone--not least, Smith says, the blacks and their liberal friends.

"Rage" has a lode of information on South African gold, guns, game and government, but to get to it we have to dig through a layer of pulp adventure. Smith's political views seem even-handed, or impartially despairing, but they are skewed by the implication that the Courtneys and De La Reys deserve to run the country through sheer expertise and hairy-chestedness, despite their involvement in repression. They are "impossibly handsome," brilliant, athletic, sexy, ruthless, charming, ruled by capital-letter emotions such as Lust or Vengeance or Will to Power--in other words, uninteresting as human beings. Their children inherit those qualities; a sequel is surely on the way.

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