Born in 1948 in Cape Town, Breytenbach is one of the few writers to have won all three top South African literary awards: the Hertzog Literature Prize (1980), the Graham Greene Award (1986), and the Man Booker International Prize (2006). Breytenbach's first two novels—And the Heart Says Yes (1978) and Don Giovanni's Children (1982)—were described by The New York Times as "writing of exceptional beauty". His third novel, A Glass of Blessings (1993), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. His fourth novel, The Final Verdict (2000), was awarded the prestigious Commonwealth Writers' Prize
For his fifth novel, Deep Cut (2003), he received both the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Nelson Mandela-Bello Dlamini Prize for Emerging Writers. His sixth novel, The Lost Notebooks of Don Camillo (2007), was awarded France's Prix Femina Etranger. He lives in Cape Town with his wife and their two children.