Johnny Golightly Comes Home: A Portrait Of Eccentricity By Pat Hopkins
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 10 June 2009

Johnny Golightly Comes Home is an interwoven tale of the stories of two men: an artist buried within multiple identities and a writer tasked with the impossible assignment of getting to the core of these identities in order to write the artist's biography. The result is a riveting, engaging account of frustration and eccentricity that is rich with metaphor and symbolism.

Johnny Golightly Comes Home: A Portrait Of Eccentricity By Pat HopkinsBorn out of a creative work and reflexive essay for a Master of Fine Arts degree, Johnny Golightly Comes Home is an interwoven account of author Pat Hopkins' experiences writing Eccentric South Africa, published in 2001, and his attempts at writing a biography of South African artist John Anthony Boerma. Consequently, this book is part biography, part autobiography, part non fiction, and part fiction, as the chronology of events is occasionally adjusted to make more sense to the reader, certain characters become composites of real-world identities, and some facts have been changed to enable the story to work better.

The title of the book is a reference to John Anthony's persona Johnny Golightly, loosely modelled on Holly Golightly from Truman Copote's Breakfast At Tiffany's. John Anthony Boerma fled his past, his father, and apartheid South Africa in the 80s and went to Holland. This was a continuation of his journey of self discovery that he had started at the University of the Witswatersrand, where his artistic and flamboyant nature (and ultimately, he had discovered in his early teens, his homosexuality) was finally something that was accepted and nurtured. This new life was a sharp contrast to the rugged, macho environment of Nelspruit where he grew up.

In Holland he enrolled at the Academy Minerva and became "absorbed by the work of Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol" and read Breakfast At Tiffany's, where he realised he was the embodiment of Holly Golightly and took on the persona of Johnny Golightly to reflect this, in so doing automatically changing his identity by changing his name. Johnny Golightly was "fun-loving, wistful and outrageously camp" and this persona enabled him to focus an immense amount of creative energy, the result of which was a film, Breakfast With Holly Forest, which secured him a bursary to study at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York. His first exhibition drew rave reviews and his future in the fabulous high life seemed secure but the turmoil that can be created by taking on a new identity eventually caught up with him and he fled to Miami, where he met a South African art co-ordinator who persuaded him to return to South Africa. Back in South Africa his two identities battled themselves and culminated in a traumatic moment in Volksrust at the Transvaal Hotel where Johnny Golightly leapt from a window to save himself from gay bashers, injuring himself badly in the process. As he lay on the ground, broken, he experienced an epiphany that caused him to revert to John Anthony Boerma and choose to lead a life that had purpose.

Pat Hopkin's experiences meeting and interviewing many artists and eccentrics had determined that the key to their particular kind of eccentricity was a traumatic experience that resulted in an epiphanous moment that is considered by some to be a communication from God revealing one's purpose and potential, and a way to salvation. John Anthony Boerma's story, however, did not conform to this theory and instead had been the result of striving for recognition, which had resulted in an epiphany rather than having been catalysed by one. This realisation sent the author into a spiral of his own, which also resulted in an injury - that he concedes was an attempt at "abandoning an existence that no longer fulfils its purpose" - and a moment of clarity. While Pat Hopkins was lying in hospital John Anthony Boerma visited him and "commented on the coincidental nature of [their] injuries, [saying] it was a sign that [Hopkins] should write his biography".

At the centre of Johnny Golightly Comes Home is the account of Pat Hopkins' journey, both literally and figuratively, to unravel the personas of John Anthony Boerma to uncover his real identity and thereby find the truth of his story between the fabrications. The narrative is peppered with anecdotes from the author's past, particuarly with regards to his attempt to define the nature and cause of eccentricity, notably in a South African context as he cites example of people he has met on his travels while writing profiles for magazines and Eccentric South Africa. The subject of John Anthony Boerma comes sharply into focus as he seems to be an anomaly, not meeting the requirements Hopkins' was sure were the triggers. Instead, he was faced with a man with shifting identities whose truth at first seemed to support the theory but upon closer and closer inspection continuously metamorphasised, causing great frustration for the author who was finding it impossible to write John Anthony Boerma's "truth".

Of course, this work being an exploration of "truth" as much as it is an exploration of eccentricity, the author's unravelling process teaches him more about the nature of truth than truth, itself. The result is a narrative that jumps backwards and forwards through time both biographically, as he tries to peel back the layers of John Anthony, and autobiographically, as his own stories contribute to his perceptions and motivations to understand his subject matter and get the artist to fit into his predefined theories.

The underlying themes in this work are complex and difficult to relate to someone who has not read Johnny Golightly Comes Home (and, full disclosure, Pat Hopkins' reflexive essay was particularly helpful in me being able to distill the contents of the book into this review without giving away any of the fascinating plot turns). As a literary work it is mesmerising, and not at all a challenge to read. It drifts from revelation to revelation, intertwining the author's and John Anthony Boerma's stories, and is absolutely riveting. Places and people that appear in the narrative will instantly be recognisable to South African audiences as this really is a South African tale infused with references that intrinsically speak to us, but it has universal appeal as the nature of personal and cultural identity is something many of us struggle with and can identify with.

Johnny Golightly Comes Home is a remarkable piece of work and has given me much pause for thought regarding both my own identity and purpose, and the country's ever-changing identity.

The review copy of Johnny Golightly Comes Home: A Portrait Of Eccentricity, by Pat Hopkins, was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available locally in South Africa in good bookstores nationwide, or you can order it online through Kalahari.net, which ships internationally.


brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 8/10


Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: Johnny Golightly Comes Home: A Portrait Of Eccentricity
Author: Pat Hopkins
ISBN: 978-0-14-302554-2
Publisher: Penguin Books (South Africa)
Edition: First
Year: 2009 (3 March 2009)
Format: Softcover/Trade Paperback
Pages: 234
Dimensions: 153x233x19mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: art, autobiography, biography, fiction, history, identity, non fiction, South Africa


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