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1. Disgrace: A Novel
2. Youth: Scenes from Provincial
3. Diary of a Bad Year
4. Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial
5. Life and Times of Michael K: A
6. Age of Iron
7. Waiting for the Barbarians: A
8. Diario De Un Mal Ano/ Diary of
9. Slow Man
10. Elizabeth Costello
11. J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical
12. The Lives of Animals (The University
13. J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of
14. Foe: A Novel (King Penguin)
15. Foe
16. In the Heart of the Country: A
17. Summertime: Fiction
18. Inner Workings: Literary Essays
19. The Master of Petersburg: A Novel
20. A Posthumous Confession (New York

1. Disgrace: A Novel
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 224 Pages (2008-08-27)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$4.10
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143115286
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
Coming in 2009, the major motion picture starring John Malkovich

Written with austere clarity , Disgrace explores the downfall of one man and dramatizes with unforgettable, almost unbearable vividness the plight of South Africa-a country caught in the chaotic aftermath of the overthrow of Apartheid.Amazon.com Review
David Lurie is hardly the hero of his own life, or anyone else's. At 52,the protagonist of Disgrace is at the end of his professional andromantic game, and seems to be deliberately courting disaster. Long aprofessor of modern languages at Cape Town University College, he hasrecently been relegated to adjunct professor of communications at the sameinstitution, now pointedly renamed Cape Technical University:

Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds itsfirst premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook,preposterous: "Human society has created language in order that we maycommunicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other." His ownopinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song,and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlargeand rather empty human soul.
Twice married and twice divorced, his magnetic looks on the wane, Davidrather cruelly seduces one of his students, and his conduct unbecoming issoon uncovered. In his eighth novel, J.M. Coetzee might have been content towrite a searching academic satire. But in Disgrace he is intent onmuch more, and his art is as uncompromising as his main character, thoughinfinitely more complex. Refusing to play the public-repentance game, Davidgets himself fired--a final gesture of contempt. Now, he thinks, he willwrite something on Byron's last years. Not empty, unread criticism, "prosemeasured by the yard," but a libretto. To do so, he heads for the EasternCape and his daughter's farm. In her mid-20s, Lucy has turned her back oncity sophistications: with five hectares, she makes her living by growingflowers and produce and boarding dogs. "Nothing," David thinks, "could bemore simple." But nothing, in fact, is more complicated--or, in the newSouth Africa, more dangerous. Far from being the refuge he has sought,little is safe in Salem. Just as David has settled into his temporary roleas farmworker and unenthusiastic animal-shelter volunteer, he and Lucy areattacked by three black men. Unable to protect his daughter, David'sdisgrace is complete. Hers, however, is far worse.

There is much more to be explored in Coetzee's painful novel, and fewconsolations. It would be easy to pick up on his title and viewDisgrace as a complicated working-out of personal and politicalshame and responsibility. But the author is concerned with his country'shistory, brutalities, and betrayals. Coetzee is also intent on what measureof soul and rights we allow animals. After the attack, David takes his roleat the shelter more seriously, at last achieving an unlikely home and somemeasure of love. In Coetzee's recent Princeton lectures, The Lives ofAnimals, an aging novelist tells her audience that the questionthat occupies all lab and zoo creatures is, "Where is home, and how do Iget there?" David, though still all-powerful compared to those he helpsdispose of, is equally trapped, equally lost.

Disgrace is almost willfully plain. Yet it possesses its own lean,heartbreaking lyricism, most of all in its descriptions of unwantedanimals. At the start of the novel, David tells his student that poetryeither speaks instantly to the reader--"a flash of revelation and a flashof response"--or not at all. Coetzee's book speaks differently, its layersand sadnesses endlessly unfolding. --Kerry Fried ... Read more

Customer Reviews (370)

1-0 out of 5 stars Impossibly depressing and abhorrent!!!!!!!
This is one of the worst books I have ever read.No redeeming value here.Just alot of disturbing and sad things, so sickening that I could not wait to the end.I thought the end would somehow redeem it, but no.It made me sick and sad that an author like this could actually win an award for this piece of trash!!!!!!!!!

5-0 out of 5 stars A Lawless Land

If you are looking for a book that will enchant you or cheer you up, this isn't it. Disgrace is a gloomy and alarming story about an inept middle aged academic named David Lurie. Even more so, it is the story of the chaos and near anarchy that characterize post-apartheid South Africa.

As for Lurie, his judgment is as bad as his luck. His misfortunes, which are many, are largely self imposed. Lucy, his masochistic and obstinate daughter, a one-time hippie turned farmer and minder of dogs, allows herself to become a passive victim of black African savagery. Lurie is priggish and self-deluded. Lucy is even more self-deluded.

Coetzee uses both characters as metaphors for the country's degeneration. Though they are well defined, pathetic and believable individuals, they are also literary marionettes whose personal troubles and demise reflect the troubles and demise of South Africa, a lawless land filled with crime, fear and racial hatred. Coetzee's yarn is brilliantly told, but chilling and profoundly disturbing. It hits home and leaves a long, bitter aftertaste. The self-deluded lives of his main characters represent, perhaps, the self-delusion of all those of European descent who choose to remain in Africa.

5-0 out of 5 stars A wonderful novel about guilt
Most of the absurdly negative reviews of Disgrace on this site complain that it is depressing or disturbing.Yes, at times it is both.So is life.Sometimes we need to find a way to cope with disturbing and depressing events.Sometimes we find a way to heal, at least partially.That's one of the lessons of Coetzee's beautifully written book.

Boyd Tonkin, one of the 1999 Booker judges, wrote in 2005:

"With Disgrace, his icily brilliant dissection of white guilt, drift and fear in post-apartheid South Africa, JM Coetzee became the first double Booker winner and entrenched his reputation as one of the greatest living novelists. Disgrace is one of the few indisputably classic novels to emerge from the cultural and political upheavals at the close of the 20th century."

I couldn't agree more.With so many other reviews on this site to wade through, I won't write further.I just wanted to add my five stars to a novel that so richly deserves them.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Silken Touch
this was the first work by Coetzee that i read and i'm impressed by the smooth silken touch that Coetzee imparts not only to his characters, the lnadscape but also to the unfolding drama of an elderly male making no bones about his sexual or maybe presexual predilections. true to his reputation Coetzee presents an image of present South Africa and through the protagopnist's daughter visualizes an image for future South Africa. whether it is an ideal that Coetzee savours or it is his hunch one can't say but this much is sure this work is one of the most delightfully writeen great works of present times.

4-0 out of 5 stars Graceful
A literature professor, David Lurie, working at a university in Cape Town has an affair with one of his students leading to his dismissal. He decides to escape the scandal by visiting his lesbian daughter who owns and runs a farm in the country. While there they encounter a roving gang of thieves who rape the daughter and make off with most of the farm's assets. In the wake of the brutal attack, the father and daughter's already strained relationship becomes worse and the daughter drifts off into a world of her own. Lurie tries to find some retribution but his daughter prevents him and events spiral into a melee of race tensions and a world he can't comprehend.

"Disgrace" was one of the few Booker prize winning books that I've read all the way through and, more surprising, actually enjoyed reading. Coetzee's writing is deceptively simple, giving it the virtue of being readable while communicating a deeper story at the same time. The characters, while distant and often dislikeable, are compelling to read about and I was frequently surprised by Coetzee's choices for the way the story went. This may be because of my limited knowledge of South Africa and the lives people lead in the country there but I think it also shows the abilities of a gifted storyteller.

It's a difficult story to tell but Coetzee manages it admirably and with style and though relatively short at 200 pages, I feel the story will stay with me for a while. Memorable, compelling, and well written, "Disgrace" is a fine novel that anyone looking for a good read would do well to pick up. ... Read more

2. Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 176 Pages (2003-10-07)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.42
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142002003
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The second installment of J. M. Coetzee's fictionalized "memoir" explores a young man's struggle to experience life to its full intensity and transform it into art. The narrator of Youth has long been plotting an escape-from the stifling love of his overbearing mother, a father whose failures haunt him, and what he is sure is impending revolution in his native country of South Africa. Arriving at last in London in the 1960s, however, he finds neither poetry nor romance and instead begins a dark pilgrimage into adulthood. Youth is a remarkable portrait of a consciousness, isolated and adrift, turning in on itself, of a young man struggling to find his way in the world, written with tenderness and a fierce clarity.Amazon.com Review
After the brooding, dark menace of his Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee's Youth is a slighter, more restrained work. Written in succinct, almost cold prose, it's a painfully maudlin bildsrungsroman that explores the dreary follies of youth rather than its more celebrated joys. The unprepossessing protagonist John is a South African mathematics graduate with literary aspirations, a dreamer who constantly yearns to meet a girl who will serve as his lover and muse. Having abandoned Cape Town after Sharpeville he finds Swinging '60s London grey, damp, and uninviting. Reluctantly he finds employment as a computer programmer. In between trundling from his grimy Archway bedsit to his soulless job, this autodidactic Pooter dabbles on a study of Ford Maddox Ford, composes an Ezra Pound-inspired poem (ostentatiously entitled "The Portuguese Rock-Lobster Fisherman"), and embarks on "one humiliating affair after another." Despite his artistic and romantic endeavors, John seems only able to cultivate "dull, honest, misery" and, broken by London, flees to a new programming job in Berkshire. Here he practically renounces literature and, for a while at least, concentrates on chess problems and feeding primitive computers magnetic tape. His creative and sexual drives appear to have gone, leaving him to consider the possibility that he might actually have grown up.

Like the halting, self-interrogating consciousness of John's computers, Coetzee renders his character's inner life through a series of rhetorical questions. These lend the book a curiously existentialist air but also contribute to its slightly dilatory gait. (It feels far longer than its 170-odd pages.) Coetzee's tone is so laconic it's hard, on occasions, to be entirely certain if John's poetic ambitions should be pitied or simply laughed at. However, this novel does offer an unflinchingly acute dissection of the adolescent male psyche. --Travis Elborough, Amazon.co.uk ... Read more

Customer Reviews (24)

5-0 out of 5 stars A worried young man
Sometimes there is an advantage in reading books by the same author in reverse order. This has been the case here for me. Having read and greatly enjoyed his most recent Summertime: Fiction, in which Coetzee creates an intriguing portrait of one John Coetzee, deceased, a kind of alter ego, and whose personality emerges through interviews and recollections by several friends and acquaintances. In his 2002 portrait "Youth" he distances himself from the younger John by writing what he terms an "autre-biography"*). Written in the present tense and in the third person, the story has a lively and immediate reality while at the same time suggesting a clear distance between the author and his subject. With the hindsight of SUMMERTIME, this reader for one, wondered how much Coetzee has creatively changed or adapted the realities of John's growing up story to suit his idea of who he might have been.

Coetzee concentrates on a decisive period in John's life - from his mid-teens to his early twenties. In this coming of age portrait of John, we see an awkward youth, whose mind hovers between ambitious dreams and self-doubt. He is a young South African, determined to escape the confines of family and the restrictions in his country. Coetzee presents us with a fascinating and often entertaining quasi-memoir, set against the backdrop of a tumultuous period in history: The frequent unrests and subsequent violent suppression of protests by South African blacks (e.g. Sharpville), the Cuban missile crisis, the declaration of South Africa as a republic, etc.

John, while a reasonably successful mathematics student, sees his real calling in being a poet. Poetry for him is the ultimate in artistic expression, prose would only be second best. He also dreams of being kissed by a muse, falling madly in love and that everything else will follow from there smoothly and happily.Life, not surprisingly, turns out very differently and Coetzee's sense of irony is subtle, yet evident throughout the novel. John is somewhat of a reluctant student of passion, experiencing it more vividly in his mind than he is able to transpose it into reality.

Leaving South Africa, he moves to London and from there to a country estate in Berkshire where he is employed as a computer programmer. The description of his daily routines, in North London in particular, and his commentary on life around him are wonderfully accurate, perceptive and also funny. Having lived there for many years, I could relate to many of John's experiences. His ambitions, on the artistic and the personal fronts, don't progress as hoped and are, at least for a while, pushed to the back of his mind. Somewhat disillusioned John nevertheless finds a certain level of inner peace. However, this state of mind and body can only be temporary and he soon struggles again with options and alternatives to move on. Will he get back to his dream of being a poet? Or will he have to settle for second-best and try his hand on prose.

J.M. Coetzee writes in a dry, yet engaging style. The reader feels empathy with the subject and despite Coetzee's detached and often ironic analysis of John's complex inner struggle, the reader cannot help but smile at times as John describes the environment around him. [Friederike Knabe]

*) In an interview with David Attwell in 2002, Coetzee asserted that "all autobiography is autre-biography", or the biography of an other. "Genre definitions", he said, "- at least those definitions employed by ordinary readers - are quite crude.

4-0 out of 5 stars Satisfying (3.5 stars)
Youth is the second in Coetzee's fictionalized autobigraphical series.I read it right after reading Boyhood.Though it is a continuation, it is not necessary to read Boyhood first.

In Youth, John Coetzee meanders aimlessly in Capetown while completing university.All the while, he dreams of the excitement of being young angst ridden artist in London.Paris would be his preference but he figures that lack of fluency in French would be an impossible hurdle.He is convinced that South Africa will self destruct and he needs to get out.

When he lands in London, it is not what he expects.He ultimately settles into what is, for him, a drudgerous life working as a programmer at IBM.He does have affairs but largely remains unfulfilled and an outsider.Though IBM is passable in some ways, he still longs to be an artist.

This is a study in a young foreign outsider in London in the 1960s.He is slightly embarassed to be from South Africa and never seems to fit in.

As usual, Coetzee's prose is flawless and his description of the inner thoughts of the main character rings with authenticity.

It is uncertain how much is fiction and how much Coetzee's real experience but it's definitely an interesting read.

While it is not one of Coetzee's most important works, it's still very good.

I recommend it as I do pretty much everything by Coetzee.To me, he is clearly one of the greatest writers of our time.

5-0 out of 5 stars Portrait of Coetzee as a young man
This book by South African writer J. M. Coetzee is not exactly an autobiography, as it recounts a few years of his life, from about the time he was 19 to his mid 20s, during the early 1960s. Though less than 200 pages long, this is hardly a fast read. Coetzee's writing style is not overly complex, but he packs so many things in it, in terms of ideas and reactions to the world around him, that you have to go slow in order to pay close attention. Not that the life shown here is particularly eventful, since most of the time he finds himself bored and lonely. A familiar theme in autobiographies by writers is growing up alone and with few friends and this book certainly shows this. If his male friends are few, his relationships with women are even worse, sordid and often abusive. The book starts in South Africa as the narrator finishes his degree in mathematics, while secretly dreaming of becoming a poet. After the Sharpeville massacre, he decides to move to London, where he works at jobs he finds depressing, first in IBM and then in a British computer firm. Far from being Swinging London, the English capital depicted in this book seems cold and depressing. The protagonist (presumably Coetzee himself) seems very selfish, and self possessed, seemingly incapable of developing a meaningful relationship with fellow humanbeings. Coupled with a job that he finds meaningless, his only solace (aside with occasional casual sex) comes with reading poetry. Since the book ends when the protagonist is in his mid 20s, the immediate question after reading this book, is what happened to him after that, did he become wiser or did he grew up to be a bitter man.

5-0 out of 5 stars Each man is an island
Coetzee's second autobiographical novel is a story of flights and also an 'Education sentimentale'.

It is a flight from the oppressiveness of his family and the love of his mother - `the bond with the firstborn' -, from the socio-political situation in South-Africa - `an albatross around his neck' - and from mortgage shackles. In one word, it is a flight to freedom.
He arrives in London, but the city turns him into a beaten dog: no work, no stay. He quickly understands that the struggle for life is still going on, that he will have to find his place in the world and that he has to prove that he belongs to this earth.

Intellectually, he is attracted to Pure Thought (mathematics), but he also wants to become a poet. He makes his first encounters (through reading and radio programs) with world literature, e.g. Joseph Brodsky who teaches him that `poetry is truth'.

Sentimentally, he has to fight against his own depths of coldness, callousness, caddishness, his lack of heat and heart. He falls in love with filmdivas, but his own love (better: sex) life is not that of a `fine' author.

In impeccable prose, J.M. Coetzee painted without any shame a very realistic picture of a `Youth-struggle'.
Not to be missed.

4-0 out of 5 stars EVEN COETZEE CAN BE FUNNY
It seems that Coetzee, winner of two Bookers, is taken awfully seriously.And, that this is a book based upon his own formative years, adds to that pontificating ouvre.I found the book to be awfully funny, as a Salinger-like view of youthful naivete and stumbling ambition, that may well be a look back with some wiser perspective and storytelling exaggeration.Indeed, the novel's insulated viewpoint, exclusively that of this immature lad, cannot disguise the hilarity of his views of D. H. Lawrence, for instance, or his hormonal lassitudes with the women visiting his bed, for better or for worse.That he takes it all so seriously cannot, it seems to me, be mistaken for the author's meaning it to be experienced at some remove as the follies and misplaced assured utterances of the would-be writer.The ending is typically ambiguous, but does seem to be a turn into the temporary trap of middle-class white-collar life, which does not smoothly fit what has come before it.That it is the subject of such a somber at-face-value reading does not match a closer (and less awe-struck) examination of the book.
... Read more

3. Diary of a Bad Year
by J. M. Coetzee
Hardcover: 240 Pages (2007-12-27)
list price: US$24.95 -- used & new: US$5.21
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B003STCNC8
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
A new work of fiction by the Nobel Prize–winning author of Disgrace

In this brilliant new work of fiction, J. M. Coetzee once again breaks new literary ground with a book that is, in the words of its main character, “a response to the present in which I find myself.” Diary of a Bad Year takes on the world of politics—a new topic for Coetzee—and explores the role of the writer in our times with an extraordinary moral compass.

At the center of the book is “Señor C,” an aging author who has been asked to write his thoughts on the state of the world by his German publisher. These thoughts, called “Strong Opinions,” address a wide range of subjects and include a scathing indictment of Bush, Cheney, and Blair, as well as a witheringly honest examination of everything from Machiavelli and the current state of the university to music, literature, and intelligent design, offering unexpected perceptions and insightful arguments along the way. Meanwhile, someone new enters the writer’s life: Anya, the beautiful young woman whom he hires to type his manuscript. The relationship that develops between Señor C and Anya has a profound effect on both of them. It also changes the course of Anya’s relationship with Alan, the successful, swaggering man whom she lives with—and who has designs on Señor C’s bank account. Through these characters, Coetzee creates an ingenious literary game that will enthrall readers and surprise them with its emotional power. Bold, funny, and sad, as well as intellectually clever and satisfying, Diary of a Bad Year is a journey into the mind and heart of one of the world’s most acclaimed and accomplished writers. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (24)

3-0 out of 5 stars political handbook, novel, or both?
Coetzee continues his late-career theme of writing about his own thinly veiled self. The small book has an odd format, with three pieces to each page. The top piece is a mini-essay, presumably written by the aging protagonist, Senor C. (Or are these actually Coetzee's views?) The middle pieces are Senor C's ideas about his taunting lust-object, Anya, whom he has hired as a typist, all the better to ogle and fantasize. The bottom pieces are Anya's ideas.

How should we read this format? Sometimes the top essays break mid-sentence and continue on the following page, implying that one should read across pages, rather than down them. But that makes hash of the story, because the second and third pieces of a page occasionally refer to the essay on the top. Sometimes the second and third pieces are only a sentence or two, and for continuity, I often jumped across pages. But the up/down, backward/forward readings got tiresome and I was glad the book was short.

Coetzee has fine rhetorical skills, and I found myself engaged in the mini-essays, even though I did not agree with the political or philosophical tilt of some of them. Even so, the collection of essays are pretty much a hodgepodge, with no obvious theme binding them. The conceit of using essays is that it is background for the sexual tensions among Senor C, Anya, and her shyster boyfriend Alan. However, the content of the essays might have involved nearly any topic to serve the same function.

Occasionally I would think, "Hey, Coetzee! Why don't you present your collection from a fascist (or libertarian, or fill-in-the-blank) viewpoint? Then we might learn how Anya or Alan respond to that ideology" Well, sure. Coetzee, like his reader, is not required to be consistent. But a thematic collection of essays might have more clearly linked essay contents to Senor C's imagined romance.

2-0 out of 5 stars Rambling, uninvolving
While I liked some of Coetzee's previous novels (Youth, for instance), I find Diary of a Lost Year, his latest work, rambling and somewhat uninvolving. The protagonist is an alter ego of Coetzee - an old South African writer living in exile in Australia. Most of the book is a rambling tirade about how out of place he feels in the modern western world. There are lots of themes he writes about - politics(there are the standard denunciations of Bush, Blair and company), the decline of South Africa after the end of the apartheid regime, the decline of general knowledge and high european culture, arts, literature, old age.Sometimes his critiques are spot on, sometimes they are insightful but other times they feel tiresome and the product of a reactionary mind. If you don't like anything about the society you live in, the problem is problably more with you than in said society. And as to the love story between the author and a much younger filipino woman he has hired as typist, I found it uninvolving and somewhat pathetic, as it clearly is much more of a fantasy of the author that he could attract a woman half a century younger than is reality. Still, I think if this book had been written in a form of a collection of essays it would probably had more been more succesful (whether you agree with him or not) than in this semifictionalized form.

3-0 out of 5 stars Stretching It
Reading this story page-by-page distracted me so I read the two bottom sections through from beginning to end, then returned to the essays.This made it easier for me to relate them to the narrative.
The structure is unique, but it was also distracting and weakening.I also found the essays dull and the story line weak.The essays lacked theme and the story did not compel.The essays lacked theme...unless it was on dying.There were too many of them to be cohesive.It was laborious to read this short book, but I'm glad I read it because it broadened my literary perspective and introducted me to a whole new way of thinking about some of these subjects.I found myself concentrating on what he had to say, especially on the arts and politics, and asking how my own thinking has changed on these particular subjects from early adulthood to now. Learning of his own personal history, it made me think about the influences in my life that have created my own personal perceptions.We know that Coetze aka Senor C is ageing, weakening, from South Africa, tolerating Australia, and highly critical of many aspects of the USA.It is good to be open to these perceptions regardless of our own beliefs.I found myself cheering for the underdog in spite of his philosophies.Alan gave me the creeps, especially as he grew in strength Anya, as she grew and developed, gave me hope.The ending...like life...has no conclusion, except for death. This book pushed me out instead of drawing me in...which would have been the easier path, but it compelled me to look more closely

3-0 out of 5 stars Diary of a Bad Year

Rosemary Ceravolo:
Diary of a Bad Year (Paperback)
by J.M. Coetzee
read in March, 2009

Rosemary said: "J. M. Coetzee's pseudo-novel,
"Diary of a Bad Year," is almost, but not really,
once you accept his 'concretismo' terms of writing,
irritating to read.

He sections off each page into three vantage
points of view by the three main characters.

The first section on the pages is the typed
manuscript of the author's, (thinly disguised
as Coetzee, himself), "Strong Opinions," comprising
all subjects from "01. -On the Origins of the State,"
through "24. -On Dostoevsky."

The second section on the pages is the voice of the
erotic, yet compassionate, downstairs neighbor, a
Filipina woman named Anya, whom the aging author
hires to type his manuscript.

The third section on each page concentrates on the
relationship Anya has with her live-in lover, Alan,
who gradually and predictably becomes jealously
obsessed with Anya's daily meetings with the famous,
old author upstairs. Alan tries unsuccessfully to
engage Anya in a plot to steal the old man's money.
Anya refuses to accomodate Alan's avaricious
greed and leaves him, once the manuscript is finished.
She winds up quite liberated after the experience of being
honored by the old author's attentions and his literary
works over the period of time she works for him.
Alan, by contrast, remains full of sour grapes, and can only
find fault with the author's work on every envious level

It took me awhile to enjoy the book. After all, I had just
read the epic masterpiece by Roberto Bolano, "2666," and
had to adjust my expectations to the different, more insular
and almost parable-like work of Coetzee in the "Diary of a
Bad Year." The three-tiered arrangement of the novel is
both clever and poignant, making clear the differences
among face-to-face communications, the exchanges behind one's
back, and the words that eventually wind up being published,
in German no less, without the back stories.

5-0 out of 5 stars A pessimistic quietistic anarchist
In this highly original three-dimensional book, J.M. Coetzee voices his strong opinions on shame and apology as well as on his moral indignation against all kinds of violence (political, economical, social, personal, physical).

The Machiavellian State uses physical (torture) as well as social violence by attacking or abolishing civil liberties. The latest legislation in the US, the UK and Australia imposes drastic restrictions on freedom of speech and surveillance of the entire world's telephonic and electronic communications.
Those legislators should be `ashamed' and `apology' for their crimes against humanity. But, to the contrary, they consider that they cannot commit a crime, since they are the ones who define crime.
He gives strong comments on sex violence (pedophilia) and violence against minorities and animals.
He sees a pure free market economy as the battle of all against all, as a `dog-eats-dog' ideology.
Withdrawing funds for free independent research in universities is a form of intellectual violence.
His reflections on violence include also comments on authors like Dostoevsky and Faulkner.

Confronted by a hostile world and a bad year, the pessimistic anarchist finds his ultimate nirvana in art (J.S. Bach, Tolstoy, the classics, photography).

I found however two strong caveats in this book.
J. M. Coetzee writes: `Western science ... arguing that what cannot be demonstrated scientifically to be true ... cannot be true ... by any standard that counts.'
This is not correct. There is no necessary link between science and truth. Truth is correspondence with the facts (A. Tarski). There are scientific, as well as musical (Did Beethoven write symphonies?), forensic (Did he rape her?) or any other kind of truths.

J.M. Coetzee writes: `As long as there is not one of us who has the faintest idea of how to go about constructing a housefly from scratch, how can we disparage as intellectually naïve the conclusion that the housefly must have been put together by an intelligence.' (Intelligent Design).
This seems to be the same argument used by Subdean William Paley in his `Natural Theology' to prove the existence of God.
But that is not the crucial point. As a US judge decided in a famous trial:I.D. is religion.
I.D. is part of a counterattack by the second Estate (the clergy) and its powerful allies against those who shred its ideology and concomitantly its power base into pulp. I.D. is backed by the wealthy few and the political Right and used as a weapon in the power struggle for political, financial, energy and other `real' stuff.
Richard Dawkins's `The Blind Watchmaker' remains an essential read.

Taking to heart G. Lukacz's words that `one's first duty as a writer is to express social and historical processes', J.M. Coetzee continues to tackle head-on the essential problems and also the possible enjoyments of our modern society.
He should be an example for all living authors.
Highly recommended.
... Read more

4. Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 176 Pages (1998-09-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$7.74
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 014026566X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Coetzee grew up in a new development north of Cape Town, tormented by guilt and fear. With a father he despised, and a mother he both adored and resented, he led a double life--the brilliant and well-behaved student at school, the princely despot at home, always terrified of losing his mother's love. His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and a growing awareness of apartheid left him with baffling questions; and only in his love of the high veld ("farms are places of freedom, of life") could he find a sense of belonging. Bold and telling, this masterly evocation of a young boy's life is the book Coetzee's many admirers have been waiting for, but never could have expected. Amazon.com Review
Until writing this book, the author of Waiting for theBarbarians and other acclaimed novels has remaineddeterminedly private about the personal experiences that sparked hiswriting. In Boyhood, describing his youth in the third person,J. M. Coetzee limns the halting struggle toward maturity of asensitive, bookish boy contemptuous of his weak father who yearns--andfears--to loosen a powerful attachment to his mother. He evokes thenarrowness and cruelty of South African society in the years followingWorld War II with the same austere yet passionate prose thatdistinguishes his fiction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (15)

4-0 out of 5 stars Typical Coetzee (Very good)
I'm in the midst of reading Coetzee's Boyhood, Youth and Summertime.

I enjoyed Boyhood very much.How much is fictionalized and how much is biography is something I tried not to worry about as it's not relevant to the story.This is about a year or so in the childhood of John Coetzee when his family moved from Capetown to Worcester (according to Wikipedia Worcester is 120 km NE of Capetown).It also deals slightly with their subsequent return to Capetown.

Coetzee is the smartest child in his class and takes great pride in being so.He is an outsider and has difficulty with the Afrikaans boys who tease him.Some of the novel deals with his school life where he mysteriously reports himself to be Roman Catholic to avoid time in "Christian" singing sessions.Thus he is ostracized by many of the boys and the Catholic boys don't believe he is one of them.The other parts deal with his homelife and his mother's quirkiness and his father's more normal life.

It's a very short novel (less than 170 pages) and provides a very enjoyable memoir of an odd, intelligent boy in 1950s South Africa.

What I love about Coetzee is his directness and his ability to capture inner thoughts in an accurate and disarming way.Frequently, I found myself thinking that he was capturing exactly how a boy thinks but in a way that most people don't write about.

I very much enjoyed Boyhood and definitely recommend it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Twice-born
In this youth memories, J.M. Coetzee defines himself as `twice-born: `born from woman and born from the farm'. He is, first of all, a mother's son (`he clings to her as his only protector'), but `the farm is his secret fate'.
Growing up in a rude and unsocialized family with eccentric characters, with a father who becomes an alcoholic and a mother, for whom `studying is just nonsense' and `children should be sent to trade school', he nevertheless continues to study `normally'.
Through school, he discovers the real world around him: the different social classes, the opposition (and ostracism) between black / colored and white (race), English and Afrikaans (language), and Catholic / Protestant and Anglican (religion).

This clear, sublime, impeccable prose is a far cry from J.M. Coetzee's struggling `Beckettian' beginnings.
Its undercooled, accurate and still dramatic style makes this book a marvelous and moving read.

4-0 out of 5 stars Senior Writers Seminar Review
In "Boyhood," J.M. Coetzee revisits his childhood as a white, English child growing up in South Africa.Written in the third person, Coetzee's memoir takes a detailed investigation into his own childhood, a time he refers to as "anything but a time of gritting the teeth and enduring." Through his own memoir, Coetzee raises many questions about society, and offers examples of young adult struggles that are shared by many.
On page twenty eight towards the beginning, Coetzee parallels his life to that of a spider. "He begins to think of himself as one of those spiders that live in a hole in the ground with a trapdoor. Always the spider has to be scuttling back into its hole, closing the trapdoor behind it, shutting out the world, hiding." Shy, easily embarrassed, and usually worried, a young Coetzee is very similar to any small and fearful creature. But unlike the quote from above, Coetzee's passiveness is shown through numerous scenes and examples with very little explanation done by the author. Instead, Coetzee lays out the story, and draws the reader to draw their own conclusions.
The most stunning, and intriguing example of this is in the way that Coetzee uses language to present his relationship with his mom. Instead of telling us that he his confused and at a loss in his relationship with her, he shows us through his sporadic and at times conflicting feelings towards her.For example, look at the two lines below taken from the book:
"He wishes she (his mom) did not love him so much. She loves him absolutely, therefore he must love her absolutely...The thought of a lifetime bowed under a debt of love baffles and infuriates him to the point where he will not kiss her, refuses to be touched by her."
"She buys tickets for him and his brother. `Go in, I'll wait here,' she says. He is unwilling but she insists. "
In this first example, he misinterprets his mother's love to be a curse, and a nuisance, and meets it with a cold heart. But at the same time, he does not want her to leave his side when he goes into an amusement park. What I have yet to reveal is that these two lines are on the exact same page, an example of how Coetzee transplants the inner conflict that he felt as a child on to the pages themselves.
It is important as well to remember that Coetzee writes the book in the third person, which allows him to disconect himself from the main-character. This disconnect allows for Coetzee to be much more critical of himself and to point out observations that he may not have realized as a child. This literary trick is another example of how Coetzee is at his best in this novel.
J.M. Coetzee's literary prowess shines through in his dark and despairing memoir of his childhood. While detaching himself from his childhood, and refusing to tell the reader but instead lay down the facts and let the reader do the work, Coetzee has accomplished much in this novel. At one point Coetzee asks his readers, "If he were no longer himself, what point would there be in living." Of course he does not explicitly leave us with an answer. None the less, in this memoir of mental and physical growth we as readers are reminded that the struggle to be ourselves is shared by all.

4-0 out of 5 stars His Boyhood
In his memoir, Boyhood, JM Coetzee writes about a young boy, presumably himself, growing up in South Africa during the 1950's. One thing about this book I enjoyed was the author's varying choice of subject matter. Coetzee managed to cover all bases in terms of his childhood. The memoir leaves the reader clear about the narrator's experiences at school, his attitude towards his family, his opinions on religion, his friendships, his enemies, his athletic memories and his aspirations. I most enjoyed his description of his first cricket at-bat.
Another aspect of the memoir that I enjoyed was the stories structure. Rather than mixing the many different subject matters together, Coetzee does a nice job of focusing on one thing at a time. For example, Chapter Two deals exclusively with the young boy's feelings about school, and about getting beaten by teachers. This was one of my favorite chapters because the narrators outpouring of emotions gives the reader a vivid image of his insecure character. Had this chapter been mixed with feelings about his family or religion, it would have been more confusing.
Also, I enjoyed JM Coetzee's subtle use of humor. Oftentimes, memoir authors try to hard to make jokes and it becomes distracting, however, Coetzee finds the perfect balance. When the narrator is trying to explain why he likes the Russians he writes: "Russia and America do not play cricket. The Americans play baseball; the Russians do not appear to play anything, perhaps because it is always snowing there. He does not know what the Russians do when they are not making war."(28) This is not an outright joke, but rather a comical thought from a young boy.

3-0 out of 5 stars Childhood through Coetzee's eyes
Coetzee uses an unusual third-person narrative writing style, in this personal memoir of his childhood. This style however is cold and distant and reflects his up bringing.Coetzee an established South African, Cape Tonian born writer has won various literature prizes for his work.

Coetzee takes his reader on a journey through the sites and memories of his childhood.He successfully allows you into deep chambers of his mind as a youngster growing up in a small Afrikaans, South African housing estate during the Apartheid era. Readers venture through the experiences and emotions of the young Coetzee, growing up in a home with a white English mother and a white Afrikaans father.He pours out emotions of confusion and the feeling of alienation felt, growing up in an unconventional home of the day.The same of having an English tongue in and Afrikaans dominated school leaves Coetzee fearful of failure and exposure.

In his memoir we meet Coetzee's parents, who he feels very differently about.He comes across as being very close to his mother whom he both loved and resented for her constant motherly protection.In his home he and his mother seem to have the first and last say on all decisions, this making them the head of their home.This unconventional arrangement angers him yet he does not want to loose this power control he lacks respect for is father.He is ashamed of his father and how soft he is and views him as the weaker parent.He feels that the way he has been raised makes him abnormal in his society and grows up always feeling like an outsider looking in.

Coetzee's book is an easy but is not particularly entertaining read.If you are looking for light comic relief, riveting romance, mysterious twists or nail biting suspense this book will definitely not have you reading cover to cover longing for more.

... Read more

5. Life and Times of Michael K: A Novel
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 192 Pages (1985-01-08)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.70
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140074481
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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First published in 1983 and winner of the Booker Prize. Set in a turbulent South Africa, a young gardener decides to take his mother away from the violence towards a new life in the abandoned countryside, but finds that war follows wherever he goes.From the author of DUSKLANDS and IN THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (57)

5-0 out of 5 stars An ode to the free and simple life
Oppression is a recurring theme in Coetzee novels, and it is the theme that drives Life and Times of Michael K.While the novel is set in South Africa, it is not explicitly (perhaps not even impliedly) a novel about racial oppression.Rather, Michael is treated as an outsider, as subservient, because he is disfigured and mentally dull.Having been raised in an institution where he was taught to peel potatoes before being given a job as a municipal gardener, Michael wants nothing more than to be left alone, nose to the ground, to work the fertile land of his ancestry.He is a simple man with simple needs and the simplest of those--freedom--is bedeviled by travel permits and curfews and work camps, by a civil war he does not understand, by societal demands that do not concern him.Throughout the novel, Coetzee illustrates the oppression of war, of institutions and bureaucracies, of demanding parents, of uncaring employers and landowners.Even the doctor who envisions himself as Michael's savior wants to bend Michael to his own will.

Using prose that is plain yet elegant, Coetzee creates empathy for Michael's plight--we feel for him when his crops are trampled, when he is removed from the land he loves, when he is forced to do physical labor for the benefit of those who have political pull with the authorities, when he is badgered to talk about his past, when he is not permitted to indulge the simple pleasures of sleeping and eating as he chooses.Michael thinks of himself as an earthworm, but he lacks an earthworm's freedom to be true to itself.The last few pages of the novel are almost an ode to simplicity, to the freedom of living off the land, unencumbered by the dictates of those who would imprison nonconformists.

Life and Times of Michael K is an important contribution to world literature.It is also a moving, beautifully written novel.Five stars.

5-0 out of 5 stars One of the great works of literature
I read this book when it came out and read it three times since including when I used it with a class of mostly first year students in 1999. It is Coetzee's masterpiece. It is "uplifting" as one reviewer said, but only if one understands that word very carefully. That Michael K survives and is able to imagine a life and maintain a place in the world amidst war, brutality, and human callousness provides a kind of hope in the spiritural resources of human beings--not in a theistic sense but at our deepest levels of consciousness of ourselves. This book shows what art can tell us about war and politics that no amount of journalism ever can--how so many people in the world find themselves in the middle of horrors they did nothing to create and can do little to stop and yet they continue to live. It's strong and often bleak material but it belongs next to the greatest works of literature.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Righteous Man in Wartime
When it comes to artists in South Africa during racial segregation, I assume that lots of them found ways to work without mentioning apartheid, but it's hard to imagine how.Like the work of artists in the American South during slavery times or artists in Russia during Communism, South African artists would have to deal with their system in some fashion unless they were deliberately ignoring it, and even then it would color everything unconsciously.Part of what's so great about "The Life and Times of Michael K" is that it never mentions race once, but racial struggle underlies the whole novel.That's true of a lot of J.M. Coetzee's work from that period, but not because he was trying to turn away.It's pretty clear that he wrote that way on purpose, which demands control, skill and a great soul.

Michael K, born with a cleft lip, is kind of slow.He grows up in an orphanage, but moves back in with his mother upon reaching adulthood and lives with her in a tiny apartment downstairs from the wealthy couple she keeps house for.Just as the infirmities of old age begin to catch up with her, a civil war begins.The wealthy employers flee, Michael's mother decides she'd like to go back to her childhood home in the country, Michael jumps through all kinds of hoops to get her there, and then she dies en route.(That's not a spoiler; you can read the same information on the dust jacket.)

Well, there's Michael, or K as the narrative calls him, with no plan or goal to speak of, almost no resources and few life skills.He's in the middle of a place he's never seen before, a countryside crawling with rebels and soldiers.All of this is complicated by the fact that, although it's never made clear, K is almost certainly "colored".What's he going to do?That's the story, of course.

Truthfully, Coetzee's skill at story construction astonishes me.He chose just the right main character, for instance - K's mental difficulties prevent him from going too deeply into his own motives for doing this or that, and it also prevents the other characters from learning those motives.In some stories that might be a weakness.Here it actually makes K stronger than those who try to push him around.He's in the middle of a circumstance where nothing makes sense anyway, but whereas others try to respond rationally to lunatic circumstance and find all such actions futile, K simply does what calls to him.He has plenty of trouble, but nothing seems to bother him.One other character, a doctor in a refugee camp, watches K go about his business in this manner and concludes that he's a saint.Which he isn't, but he's certainly closer to it than practically anyone else.

Okay, so what exactly calls to him?It's got something to do with getting as close to the land as possible; he is, after all, a former municipal gardener.He takes the minimum from the earth that's necessary for his survival, and cares for the earth as best he can with what he has.He rarely resists when anyone takes him to a camp or a prison or anything crazy like that - he just returns to the land as soon as possible.He makes no value judgments and corrects no one's mistakes, he just is.Remarkable, considering his surroundings.

Which brings us to the comparison some have critics have made between this novel and Kafka's "The Trial," which also features a character named K trying to contend with a lunatic world.The protagonists also share a certain passivity, or maybe just acceptance; they don't resist anything, or conclude that the world they live in is wrong.They just deal with it as best as they can.On the other hand, the distinctions between the works are crucial; Kafka's novel is a cry of pain and Coetzee's is not.

While we're on the subject, I'm a little surprised at how few have noticed the similarities between "Life and Times" and Kozinski's "Being There", another novel about a mentally delayed man who works as a gardener and must suddenly make his way in the larger world.The difference in that case is that Kozinski focused on how Chauncey Gardiner, without even noticing it, causes others to reveal what they really are - Coetzee's novel concentrates on K himself and what he learns by disregarding what's around him.

This is where Coetzee's refusal to call apartheid by name proves to be so clever.In "Life and Times" he's dealing with the generic insanity of civilization, rather than a particular insane system, and shows us a main character who's capable of defeating it by simply ignoring it.I can't see how that would be possible in a novel about apartheid - there was too much emotional upheaval associated with that - but it sure works here.Poor, lost, despised, uncomprehending Michael K remains the most powerful character in the book, just because he doesn't fight the insanity.He goes along with it until he can get away, and then he leaves.Unlike Kafka's characters, Michael K is at peace.

More accurately, he's at peace when the novel concludes.If he started out that way, "Life and Times" would lack that critical element, the protagonist's growth.As it is, this novel is about an uneducated outcast who asks the ancient question "How shall a man live"? and answers it in a way that brings him peace.Maybe he is a saint, at that.

Benshlomo says, A wise person learns wisdom from those who live in the gutter.

4-0 out of 5 stars Michael K would prefer not to
Coetzee really goes for broke here, giving us an uncompromising journey into the most austere existence and bare-boned suffering. Michael K wanders through a civil war-torn landscape, seeking to remove himself utterly from anything that could be called society. He retreats to the mountains, but hunger forces him back down (the book is to a large extent a study of starvation). At a lower elevation, Michael cultivates a pumpkin patch, eats the occasional lizard, becomes so determined to stay out of sight that he begins living nocturnally. They find him, of course; haul him in.

Michael encounters more articulate people who try to fill him in on his situation, and one deflates a bit as the novel appears to veer toward the political. But Coetzee shrewdly moves on, not content to settle for such explanations of Michael's fate. Coetzee never comes right out and says Michael is an indigenous African, though he must be, but I think the author wants this story to transcend race. Michael ultimately strikes us as almost pre-human. I didn't think of him as black or white; honestly, I kept picturing the caveman from the Geico commercials. The movements of Michael's mind at times approach an animal-like contemplation.

There is an interlude late in the book when the narrative is taken up by a doctor treating the malnourished, passive Michael. The doctor tries to help him, tries to break through, but Michael is gently uncooperative. We've entered Bartleby territory here (this novel is far closer to the Melville story than all the Beckett and Kafka most critics compare it to). Despite his own well-publicized spartan character, I think Coetzee finds Michael as inscrutable as the doctor does. He can't let go of him.

3-0 out of 5 stars I love Coetzee but .... (2.5 stars)
Coetzee is one of my favorite authors.Admittedly, I still have a lot more to read.I have read Disgrace, Boyhood, Youth, Summertime and Waiting For The Barbarians.

I have enjoyed his work so much ,especially Disgrace and Summertime, that I almost feel like a traitor in not caring for Michael K.Nonetheless, that is the truth.

Thus far, I enjoy Coetzee more when his stories are more reality based and subtle.I find both Waiting For The Barbarians and Michael K to be too direct in their presentation of their underlying themes.Both Michael K and the Judge in Waiting for the Barbarians are tools to demonstrate the underlying themes of war, conflict and human freedom.I admire the sentiment but I think Coetzee's later work is more mature and developed.

Coetzee is an outstanding talent and not caring for The Life and Times of Michael K will in no way deter me from reading a lot more.I think I also hold this to a higher standard because of my expectations.

With all that said, there are great scenes in this book and it is very well constructed.I just can't quite recommend it.
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6. Age of Iron
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 208 Pages (1998-09-01)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140275657
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In Cape Town, South Africa, an old woman is dying of cancer. A classics professor, Mrs. Curren has been opposed to the lies and brutality of apartheid all her life, but has lived insulated from its true horrors. Now she is suddenly forced to come to terms with the iron-hearted rage that the system has wrought. In an extended letter addressed to her daughter, who has long since fled to America, Mrs. Curren recounts the strange events of her dying days. She witnesses the burning of a nearby black township and discovers the bullet-riddled body of her servant's son. A teenage black activist hiding in her house is killed by security forces. And through it all, her only companion, the only person to whom she can confess her mounting anger and despair, is a homeless man, an alcoholic, who one day appears on her doorstep.

Brilliantly crafted and resonant with metaphor, Age of Iron is "a superbly realized novel whose truths cut to the bone." (The New York Times Book Review) ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

4-0 out of 5 stars A Lyrical Denunciation of Apartheid
This book is about the personal struggles that several individuals endure in South Africa during the most brutal years of the Apartheid. The title of the book reflects the unyielding oppression and brutality of that dehumanizing regime. Indeed, such is the depth of dehumanization during this time, that all human interactions are depicted as being stripped of any form of kindness and generosity. This holds equally for the oppressors as it does for their victims, and all those caught in the middle of the various highly antagonistic groups.

The main character is a white woman who is battling the advanced stages of cancer. Alone in her misery, the woman often reflects on her only daughter who has managed to escape from South Africa in pursuit of a more normal life in the United States. Both the cancer and the absent daughter work as powerful, albeit too obvious, metaphors for the sickness of society and all of its social ills. The narrative is oftentimes very lyrical, and at some level functions like that of a very long prose poem. The reflections and monologues that are present throughout the book are of high literary value, though come off as overbearing after a while. I feel that the message of the book could have been conveyed much more effectively if Coetzee had focused on the main events of the story in a more dispassionate and matter of fact way. After all, the dehumanizing effects of the Apartheid speak for themselves.

4-0 out of 5 stars Preachy butmasterful
Coetzees novel Age of Iron is polemical in character.This is an anti-apartheid novel, and that angle is hard to ignore.But even with this strongly ideological flavor, Age of Iron still packs quite a punch.Coetzee is filled with rage over the fate of South African culture during apartheid, and this anger blazes across the page.So even with the preachy element of this novel front and center, Age of Iron is a compeling read.The novel never laps into a moral screed.

3-0 out of 5 stars Interesting Perspective but Left me Wanting
On recommendation and with no background or experience with Coetzee I started reading Age of Iron. What I found was an interesting perspective on humanity in the story of an old woman dying of cancer in Apartheid-torn South Africa. It highlighted the amazing human ability to academically or philosophically oppose injustice and cruelty while at the same time demonstrating indifference and acceptance through inaction. Although concepts were interesting and compelling, the cold prose and undeveloped characters ultimately failed to emotionally engage me and left me wanting something more.

4-0 out of 5 stars A Cry for Leadership
I have enjoyed most of the J.M. Coetzee books that I have read.I found "Age of Iron" to be one of his better books.At first I wasn't sure what to make of it but, as I delved into it more, I realized that this was a very impressive analogy of South Afica and its' issues at that point in time.The book was copyrighted in 1990 at a time that change was ongoing in racially troubled South Africa.The main character is a somewhat elderly White woman who has just discovered that she has cancer.The book is written as a first-person account to her daughter who, years before, left South Africa and its' Apartheid behind and moved to America.In describing her troubles to her daughter, she is essentially describing the troubles of her native land.The analogies kept popping up; her cancer as an analogy of the dying regiem, her pain medication that dopes the pain and the brain as an analogy failing to treat and/or acknowledge the issues present, her "house guest" as an analogy of the strange partnerships that arise when the enemy is fear and prejudice.What I didn't jot down, as I read along, were all the many minor illustrations of this elaborate analogy.I admit that I got similar reactions to Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" but it was more impressive with "Age of Iron".The title was referred to a couple of times and, as I recall, it was a cry for leadership.Indeed, "Age of Iron" is all about the need for leadership in South Africa.

5-0 out of 5 stars Death is the only truth left
In this violent text, an old woman learns that she has an incurable cancer. She meets her `angel of death' and together they pass the last months of her life in `a world of rage and violence', in a country (South-Africa) that is `a nightmare from beginning to end, with white zealots preaching the old regime of death to children some too young to tie their shoelaces.'

The deadly cancer of the old woman is an allegory of the country's own destination: `I have cancer from the accumulation of shame I have endured in my life. That is how cancer comes about: from self-loathing the body turns malignant and begins to eat away at itself.'
That eating away is `the reign of the locust family': children burning their own schools, and killing the young even if they are colored ones.
Like the old woman, the country is `a bad tempered old hound snoozing in the doorway, taking its time to die'. Like the old woman the country will turn into smoke and ash.

What is J.M. Coetzee's answer to this devastating situation? Denouncing, for `writing is the foe of death.'

With `Age of Iron', J.M. Coetzee has written an iron masterpiece.
... Read more

7. Waiting for the Barbarians: A Novel (Penguin Ink) (The Penguin Ink Series)
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 192 Pages (2010-06-29)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$7.33
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143116924
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A modern classic, this early novel by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee centers on the crisis of conscience and morality of the Magistrate-a loyal servant of the Empire working in a tiny frontier town, doing his best to ignore an inevitable war with the "barbarians." ... Read more

Customer Reviews (85)

5-0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece.
Those of us who truly appreciate great writing, Waiting for the Barbarians is a find. Original, no fillers, meaningful from beginning to end. It enters the world of nomadic people seen from the point of view of those who never hesitate to push the weaker to the edge of extinction. By exploring a culture of those still connected to nature, it reflects upon the destructiveness of our own.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not The Best Coetzee
JM Coetzee is one of my favorite writers.He has a knack for striking at the human heart.His work is rarely sentimental but stirs great emotion in me.

As far as Waiting for The Barbarians goes, I admire the structure and the intellect displayed in the writing but it didn't strike me the way most of Coetzee's work does.

It is an allegory that could apply to any armed conflict.In a frontier town of "The Empire", a magistrate has lived peacefully arbitrating for many years.He has reached a comfortable point in his life."The Empire" has decided that some of the nomadic tribes, "The Barbarians" are a threat to them.A group from the capital arrive in the town and proceed to seek out and question ("torture") some of The Barbarians for information on the uprising.The Magistrate knows that these people are persecuting the helpless and that their mission is useless.At first he chooses to say nothing.

Later the Magistrate acts in ways unpleasing to The Empire in fraternizing with The Barbarians.He is stripped of his duties, becomes a pariah and an enemy of The Empire.

In his mind, The Magistrate, would like to stand up and lead the people against injustice but he is largely an ineffectual and ignored presence who's more an annoyance to the oppressors than anything else.

This novel is a good allegory for the stupidity of War and conquering forces.It also outlines the indifference of many to the concepts of justice.

It is frustrating to read at times.It has important and well thought out themes.

I didn't find it to be as striking and emotionally impactful as some of Coetzee's other work.

I'm on the fence about recommending it.It has some very good aspects but I don't feel that it is one of Coetzee's stronger works.

3-0 out of 5 stars Barbarians
The book was in good condition, but had many, many notes written in it. I didn't mind this most of the time, as the notes were somewhat helpful to my own understanding of the book, but they were also distracting and sometimes irrelevant. It would have been nice to know before I bought the book that it was written in, unless that is assumed when purchasing a used book.

5-0 out of 5 stars A master work
A stirring novel about the dehumanizing effects of colonialism, both on the colonizer and the native, Waiting for the Barbarians is written in the grand tradition of Conrad's great novels. Here Coetzee presents one man's attempt to find meaning and human worth in a world that strips people of these basic rights.And he does it with economny, speed, beauty, and exacting honesty.

3-0 out of 5 stars The declaration of a Rebel
Waiting for the Barbarians is one of Coetzee's early works, bearing the characteristics of his early phases of literary evolution.

The hero is an employee of the Empire, a magistrate running a borderland settlement, fencing it from the natives, the barbarians. In the typical Coetzee style, the Empire symbolizes the colonial government of nineteenth century South Africa. The magistrate's feelings towards the natives take a dramatic turn when he falls for a native girl orphaned by the Empire. At first, his sympathies for the natives are mild but when he sees an interrogation of the natives by the Empire employees, things start to change. At last he turns against the Empire completely in a quixotic revolt against the racist injustice. He is imprisoned and persecuted by the Empire. The title is an irony over the racist situations. After the revolt of the hero, the Empire and its employees are called the barbarians.

The style of Coetzee improves dramatically in this work. We almost see the grace and ease of `Disgrace'. Waiting for the Barbarians is a pleasant though sad read. It flows smoothly. The use of present simple as narration makes it a little dreamlike. Though events and thoughts blend in but the reader can easily differentiate between thoughts and events.

Coetzee is still a fervent socialist and many dialogues in the novel hint at the Cold War situations.
It is a sympathetic narrative which touches one's heart, but it is clearly the imagination of a late-twentieth century white male with liberal commitments. The setting of the novel in early nineteenth century does not seem natural. While the colonialists were definitely cruel and racist, judging them according to the present standards seems a little harsh. As compared to a full-blooded support of the natives by a white man today, even a slight insubordination to the colonial authorities on the part of a nineteenth century colonialist employee was a far greater act of bravery. Nikita Khrushchev may remain a reviled Commie figure in the West, but if he had not given that famous secret speech of 1956, denouncing Stalin, then the path for many who later brought down the Communist regime would not have cleared. We have to see history in this evolutionary light. Waiting for the Barbarians is essentially a twentieth century novel with all the latest liberal inputs and we witness the grafting of a twentieth century intellect over a nineteenth century landscape.

Coetzee is still to disavow himself from the commitment to the political Left. This he would do in Life and Times of Michael K.
... Read more

8. Diario De Un Mal Ano/ Diary of a Bab Year (Spanish Edition)
by J. M. Coetzee
Hardcover: 240 Pages (2007-10-30)
list price: US$25.95 -- used & new: US$19.72
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Asin: 8439720920
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9. Slow Man
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 272 Pages (2006-09-26)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$4.85
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143037897
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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J. M. Coetzee , one of the greatest living writers in the English language, has crafted a deeply moving tale of love and mortality in his new book, Slow Man. When photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, he is forced to reexamine how he has lived his life. Through Paul’s story,Coetzee addresses questions that define us all: What does it mean to do good? What in our lives is ultimately meaningful? How do we define the place we call "home"? In his clear and uncompromising voice, Coetzee struggles with these issues and offers a story that will dazzle the reader on every page. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (51)

1-0 out of 5 stars at least it wasn't boring or long
This is my first Coetzee book and I'm not sure I should have started with it.It begins beautifully, with a dramatic life changing accident described with sparse, clear, and compelling prose.But then it quickly degenerates into a series of encounters that are increasingly bizarre and ridiculous.

I have no idea what Elizabeth's appearance in the book accomplishes other than to repeat what the main character, Paul, has already expressed previously and to act as some sort of bantering (and annoying) angel figure.Her presence let alone her ubiquitous understanding is never explained and we're expected to just play along, but it was jarring to begin with and then got (much) worse.

I also don't believe that the sequence of events following the "inappropriate love" made any sense.For example, without giving anything away, the conversation Elizabeth conducts with Drago about his mother and Paul is infuriatingly dumb and shows absolutely no understanding of family politics and psychology other than the author's allowing Drago two lame protests to "ask his mother please."Or the cohabitation scheme Elizabeth comes up with - which is so ludicrous that even bringing it up made me hate the book even more.

The colonial and patriarchal and macho and procreation attitudes didn't help either.There are innumerable examples of this throughout the book, and too many other strange and incomprehensible happenings to mention all of them.I thought Slow Man would be about mortality and love, as told by an old man who suddenly loses his independence.But it appeared to be a vehicle for Mr. Coetzee to spout some crap about needing to seed the world and being self indulgent and grumpy while he's doing it.At least it wasn't boring, and I did think some of the meditations on immigration (not the brown people to white land ones, which were hackneyed and stereotypical, but the white people to other white lands ones) were interesting.And thank god it wasn't long.

2-0 out of 5 stars Too, too . . .
It's much too "post-metafictional" for me, this Elizabeth Costello character who knows everything about our main character.I waited for her appearance with bated breath, having read other reviewers here and hoping her arrival would give the narrative a much needed jolt of electricity.But no.

I miss the South African nuances of the old Coetzee.

The new Coetzee writes about --a man who is losing his physical and emotional capacities and imagines he is in love with his caregiver?Hello?Have we not heard this plot 10 million times before?Or did it just start with Anna Nicole Smith?Endlessly ruminating about one's sad fate is also not a new thing.

4-0 out of 5 stars First few chapters are a tour de force
The first few chapters, describing a senior citizen's reactions to his hospital stay, and his first week at home, are a tour de force (and this is coming from a person who hated a prize winning play on the same subject, "Wit").I then lost interest, until the introduction of Elizabeth, the author.I guess this could be described as a novel about coming to terms with old age, or even about writer's block, but I was more interested in the journey than the destination. One passage I liked about alienation (p.197):"I can pass among Australians.I cannot pass among the French.That, as far as I am concerned, is all there is to it .....where one passes and where one does not".

4-0 out of 5 stars A novel exploration of the writing process by a master novelist
Paul Rayment, out riding his bicycle, is hit by a car and loses a leg.He is a retired photographer, an aging divorcee, with no children, and nothing much left to live for, at least as he sees it.His Croatian nurse gives him something to care about.It is not so strange that he, an old man with few prospects, would fall in love with this strong willed and efficient younger woman who didn't treat him as a cripple, who saw him as just a man, a patient, but a man with some kind of future.What complicates things is that he wants to do something to insinuate himself into her life, into that of her children.He can't know what'll come of it, and doesn't think that far, but it's the only thing he knows to do, and he can't help along the way but declare his love for the woman whose benefactor he proposes to become.A futile gesture, that only makes things awkward; what makes it worse is that his sense of decency also keeps him from following up on the possibilities.He's a complicated man, but all too predictable.It is the kind of scenario that starts out with promise: a damaged man, a useless passion bringing with it possibilities even at this late juncture.But where to go with it?How to make it more than an intriguing beginning to a story?

Enter Elizabeth Costello, a novelist (and central character of two other Coetzee novels: The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello) for whom the predicament of Rayment is paralyzing.She can't tell him what to do, but she needs and urges him to do something.He came to her, she says, and he can't quite understand what that means, but we gradually do understand as readers.He came to her, and she has to learn from him what he might do, and can't ever be quite satisfied with what he ends up doing.In frustration, she proposes alternatives, that he give up his useless passion, that he pursue something attainable, but isn't that what it is to be human (at least as Sartre has it), to be driven above all by passion and not utility?That he refuses makes Rayment perhaps frustrating, but certainly more interesting.What ensues with the introduction of Costello and the introduction of the complications that follow from Rayment's obstinate pursuit of a useless passion makes for a fascinating and provocative read.Perhaps not as revelatory or groundbreaking as Coetzee's most famous novel Disgrace, and I think this would be best read not as a stand alone novel but as the concluding novel of a Costello trilogy (a kind of "Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman"), but even on its own it would be well worth reading and certainly enjoyable.

3-0 out of 5 stars Background Knowledge Required
Slow Man is the first Coetzee book I have read.I don't know how or why I picked this book first but I did.There were two fine points I did not know when I started to read the book that were key to understanding it, which I assume readers of Coetzee may have known.Fortunately, I learned about these points very shortly after the introduction of Elizabeth Costello into the story line.First, Elizabeth Costello is the title character for another Coetzee book and second she is also Coetzee's alter ego.Once I knew these two points the book made sense.

Slow Man seemed to me a book that Coetzee probably started with an idea in mind and had a problem actuating it.Paul Rayment, his lead protagonist, and his struggles as an aging man after a bike accident cripples him and forces him to examine himself and his life situation is an interesting topic to pursue.The introduction of Mrs. Costello though left me with the impression that Coetzee could not bring that story line to completion.Instead he introduces himself through Mrs. Costello and at times seems ranting to us that his character will not grow or go where he wants him to go.At times the author seems to be screaming for the character to hurry up and push on in his growth so he can be done with it.His frustrations and what I assume are the effects on him physically and mentally through the process of writing are relayed through Mrs. Costello.While this may be interesting to the reader at times, at other times it was not.

In the end, Paul Rayment has grown.He and Costello (Coetzee) are able to depart from each other amiably.I image a deep sigh was released by Coetzee upon completion of the writing process though.

Overall, the book was a quick read and interesting read, if you know the background.Otherwise it might have seemed odd as you tried to understand who Mrs. Costello was and how she came to have the knowledge she holds. ... Read more

10. Elizabeth Costello
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 240 Pages (2004-10-26)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$5.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142004812
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Since 1982, J. M. Coetzee has been dazzling the literary world. After eight novels that have won, among other awards, two Booker Prizes, and most recently, the Nobel Prize, Coetzee has once again crafted an unusual and deeply affecting tale. Told through an ingenious series of formal addresses, Elizabeth Costello is, on the surface, the story of a woman’s life as mother, sister, lover, and writer. Yet it is also a profound and haunting meditation on the nature of storytelling.Amazon.com Review
For South African writer J.M. Coetzee, winner of two Booker Prizes and the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, the world of receiving literary awards and giving speeches must be such a commonplace that he has put the circuit at the center of his book, Elizabeth Costello. As the work opens, in fact, the eponymous Elizabeth, a fictional novelist, is in Williamstown, Pennsylvania, to receive the Stowe Award. For her speech at the Williamstown's Altona College she chooses the tired topic, "What Is Realism?" and quickly loses her audience in her unfocused discussion of Kafka. From there, readers follow her to a cruise ship where she is virtually imprisoned as a celebrity lecturer to the ship's guests. Next, she is off to Appleton College where she delivers the annual Gates Lecture. Later, she will even attend a graduation speech.

Coetzee has made this project difficult for himself. Occasional writing--writing that includes graduation speeches, acceptance speeches, or even academic lectures--is a less than auspicious form around which to build a long work of fiction. A powerful central character engaged in a challenging stage of life might sustain such a work. Yet, at the start, Coetzee declares that Elizabeth is "old and tired," and her best book, The House on Eccles Street is long in her past. Elizabeth Costello lacks a progressive plot and offers little development over the course of each new performance at the lectern. Readers are given Elizabeth fully formed with only brief glimpses of her past sexual dalliances and literary efforts.

In the end, Elizabeth Costello seems undecided about its own direction. When Elizabeth is brought to a final reckoning at the gates of the afterlife, she begins to suspect that she is actually in hell, "or at least purgatory: a purgatory of clichés." Perhaps Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, which can be read as an extended critique of clichéd writing, is a portrait of this purgatory. While some readers may find Coetzee's philosophical prose sustenance enough on the journey, some will turn back at the gate. --Patrick O'Kelley ... Read more

Customer Reviews (57)

2-0 out of 5 stars Misleading as Fiction
I read J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and was blown away by its powerful prose. I believe wholeheartedly that J.M. Coetzee is deserving of his Nobel Prize. I started to read Elizabeth Costello and couldn't even finish it because I was so bored. There's no real story to this book. I'm not sure why its classified as a work of fiction. Its not fiction, its a mish-mash of J.M. Coetzee's essays and ideas, collected under the guise of a "story". People will buy this book wanting some semblance of a plot or forward moving action and they'll be disappointed, just as I was. I really tried to slog through it all the way to the end (its a slim volume), but I couldn't. Mr. Coetzee is no slouch and he's no dummy ... I'm just not sure this was the right vehicle for getting this type of material out there.

5-0 out of 5 stars Tout nu
In this more or less loosely constructed novel built around lectures given by the author's double, the Australian writer Elisabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee puts himself `tout nu' by tackling head-on all important human issues as there are literature (writing and the responsibility of the writer), evil (holocausts), religion, the ravages of politics, the role of the university or sex.

Literature, the miracle of writing and crisis
Books are put better together than the writer, whose aim is to live on through its creatures (seeking immortality) and to measure himself against the masters. `His business is to bring inert matter to life or opening eyes to human depravity (shaking people).'
But the writer has also responsibilities, for `certain things are not good to read or to write.'
Like the great writer H. Von Hofmannsthal in `The Lord Chandos Letter' (quoted in this novel), an author has also self-doubts: `has everything she has said, all her finger-pointing and accusing, been not only wrong-headed, but mad, completely mad?'

Evil (against animals)
In extremely harsh words, J.M. Coetzee denounces the places of death (the slaughterhouses) around us, making evil a banality. `Each day a fresh holocaust, yet our moral being is untouched.' `At the bottom, we protect our own kind. Thumbs up to human babies, thumbs down to veal calves.

Evil (by religion)
Christianism killed everything: `the Greeks were damned, the Indians were damned, the Zulus were damned', because `extra ecclesiam nulla salvatio.'
`We need Hellenism as an alternative to Christianity. We should not live in the hereafter but in the here and now.'

Evil (by universities)
The core of the universities today is moneymaking. The Studio humanitatis died as sterile text analysis (textual scholarship).

Evil (by politics)
The author's target here are the Europeans and their historical guilt for the extermination of whole peoples, for its wars and its colonialism: `Europe has spread across the world like a cancer, until today it ravages life forms, animals, plants, habitats, languages.'

The author's nirvana is the classless society or a world from which poverty, disease, illiteracy, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the rest of the bad litany have been exorcised.

In the former USSR, people were fed up with lectures about communism. To attract at least some audience, party members had to invent teasing titles like `The three Forms of Love'. Of course, the lecture room was packed. The speaker began his lecture as follows: the first form of love, heterosexuality, is, I hope, known by everybody. The second form of love, homosexuality is, as you know, forbidden in our country. So, there rests only the third form of love for our lecture today and that is the love of the people for our Party. (courtesy A. Zinoviev)
So, for the subject of sex, one should read J.M. Coetzee's novel. It's very rewarding.

All in all, J.M. Coetzee's message is loud and clear: `We cannot live thus; each creature is key to all other creatures.'

This book is a must read for all lovers of world literature and for all Coetzee fans.

5-0 out of 5 stars this book will stay with me
"Elizabeth Costello" is unlike any other book I have read: not exactly a novel, but a series of fictional meditations on the life of the mind, its joys and its perils. Coetzee's unfailingly economical, enigmatic, yet poetic voice blew me away. Brilliant.

1-0 out of 5 stars boring rambling
Two big reasons I bought this book were "Disgrace" (a good Coetzee book that I read a few years ago) and the Nobel-Prize . This book turned out to be pure drivel. So much so that I gave up reading half way through. Many weeks later, I picked up the book again. I did finish it this time, but this is, absolutely, the most boring book I have ever read. It rambles on and on. Not to say that books that ramble are all boring or not good to read, but this one definitely is.

1-0 out of 5 stars I would've enjoyed an enema more.
I have to admit that I was "taken in" by the "Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature" mention that graced the cover. Having never read a Coetzee novel, I thought this would be a fine start.

It wasn't. It was nowhere near a fine start, or a fine anything. To say that this book is the equivalent of mental masturbation is an understatement. For a literary genius, the main character, Elizabeth Costello, is about as interesting and engaging as a "Charles in Charge" rerun. Though at least a "Charles in Charge" rerun has a plot, which this book fails to even consider necessary.

The only joy I have gotten from this book has been in hating it. From letting others know that this is a load of over-intellectualized crap that should be avoided at all costs. Sadly, I'm still wiping the thing off my proverbial shoe. Which now begs the question: What am I to do with this fine waste of paper, ink, and energy?

Too bad I don't have a birdcage.
... Read more

11. J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature
Paperback: 448 Pages (2010-05-11)
list price: US$27.50 -- used & new: US$22.48
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Asin: 0231148410
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In 2003, South African writer J. M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his riveting portrayals of racial repression, sexual politics, the guises of reason, and the hypocrisy of human beings toward animals and nature. Coetzee was credited with being "a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilization." The film of his novelDisgrace, starring John Malkovich, brought his challenging ideas to a new audience.Anton Leist and Peter Singer have assembled an outstanding group of contributors who probe deeply into Coetzee's extensive and extraordinary corpus. They explore his approach to ethical theory and philosophy and pay particular attention to his representation of the human-animal relationship. They also confront Coetzee's depiction of the elementary conditions of life, the origins of morality, the recognition of value in others, the sexual dynamics between men and women, the normality of suppression, and the possibility of equality in postcolonial society.With its wide-ranging consideration of philosophical issues, especially in relation to fiction, this volume stands alone in its extraordinary exchange of ethical and literary inquiry. ... Read more

12. The Lives of Animals (The University Center Fro Human Values Series)
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 130 Pages (2001-07-01)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$9.98
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Asin: 069107089X
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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The idea of human cruelty to animals so consumes novelist Elizabeth Costello in her later years that she can no longer look another person in the eye: humans, especially meat-eating ones, seem to her to be conspirators in a crime of stupefying magnitude taking place on farms and in slaughterhouses, factories, and laboratories across the world.

Costello's son, a physics professor, admires her literary achievements, but dreads his mother's lecturing on animal rights at the college where he teaches. His colleagues resist her argument that human reason is overrated and that the inability to reason does not diminish the value of life; his wife denounces his mother's vegetarianism as a form of moral superiority.

At the dinner that follows her first lecture, the guests confront Costello with a range of sympathetic and skeptical reactions to issues of animal rights, touching on broad philosophical, anthropological, and religious perspectives. Painfully for her son, Elizabeth Costello seems offensive and flaky, but--dare he admit it?--strangely on target.

Here the internationally renowned writer J. M. Coetzee uses fiction to present a powerfully moving discussion of animal rights in all their complexity. He draws us into Elizabeth Costello's own sense of mortality, her compassion for animals, and her alienation from humans, even from her own family. In his fable, presented as a Tanner Lecture sponsored by the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, Coetzee immerses us in a drama reflecting the real-life situation at hand: a writer delivering a lecture on an emotionally charged issue at a prestigious university. Literature, philosophy, performance, and deep human conviction--Coetzee brings all these elements into play.

As in the story of Elizabeth Costello, the Tanner Lecture is followed by responses treating the reader to a variety of perspectives, delivered by leading thinkers in different fields. Coetzee's text is accompanied by an introduction by political philosopher Amy Gutmann and responsive essays by religion scholar Wendy Doniger, primatologist Barbara Smuts, literary theorist Marjorie Garber, and moral philosopher Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation. Together the lecture-fable and the essays explore the palpable social consequences of uncompromising moral conflict and confrontation. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (15)

5-0 out of 5 stars Creative Context for Animal Rights Review
This small book provides a wonderfully insightful perspective on the issues surrounding compassion and respect for animals.It reviews some of the main arguments, but in the context of two lectures given by an aging academician.Adding to the substance of her lectures is the curious passive nature of her son's response, who seems to miss the point, while mainly experiencing a sense of discomfort and embarrassment at the actions of his mother.This is very readable and is intelligently written.

5-0 out of 5 stars Well written and thought provoking
It's not very traditional, and stylistically it reminds me a good deal of novels by Calvino, Sontag, Kundera, etc. that don't necessarily have a standard narrative. The lectures and debate take up most of the story, but it is not like reading non-fiction. I disagree with criticisms that Coetzee is disguising his own lectures, mostly because I don't think he could have accomplished the same thing as a non-fiction piece. I found the ideas about reason and literature interesting, and was drawn in by the debate offered on the treatment of animals.

This main part of the book also appears as 2 chapters within Coetzee's novel, Elizabeth Costello, which is where I read it. Although I enjoyed E.C., it was the material also published as The Lives of Animals that was most interesting to me. But for more about the main character in The Lives of Animals, you could buy Elizabeth Costello to begin with. (Though then you would not get the introduction or the reflections that appear in The Lives...).

5-0 out of 5 stars great book
Book arrived in perfect condition, and it arrived earlier than i expected.Also, it's a great book that everyone should read.

1-0 out of 5 stars Don't bother
Rarely do I just write off a book especially of such a prolific writer as Coetzee but this book is such an utter disappointment in his career and its only value lies in that it will prepare you for the even bigger disappointment of his most recent novel, Elizabeth Costello which this book is a precursor. I am not violently opposed to this book neither is the writing that excessively bad...the book is a definition of the utter waste of time.

4-0 out of 5 stars Warmth seeps
Introducing his character, Elisabeth Costello, which latter became standalone novel, Coetzze dives himself into the world of animal rights, and humane in intself. Main question that dominates the book is the on that say: "Why does the reason (logos) must be center of judgment?"
And Coetzee does not gives us the answer.
Nor shhould he.
Presented in the form of imaginary lectures that are held by aging writer Elisabeth Costello, this book in his simplest form outshines many that are written of the same subject. In simple terminology, without large philosophical words, Coetzee presents the argument, and doesen't choose to stay on any side of it.
Without giving so much thought on fabula, or even the characters, Coetzee managed to write very inspiring book for every activist out there... and others as well :) ... Read more

13. J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event
by Derek Attridge
Hardcover: 240 Pages (2005-01-01)
list price: US$50.00 -- used & new: US$39.97
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Asin: 0226031160
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Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee is one of the most widely taught contemporary writers, but also one of the most elusive. Many critics who have addressed his work have devoted themselves to rendering it more accessible and acceptable, often playing down the features that discomfort and perplex his readers.

Yet it is just these features, Derek Attridge argues, that give Coetzee's work its haunting power and offer its greatest rewards. Attridge does justice to this power and these rewards in a study that serves as an introduction for readers new to Coetzee and a stimulus for thought for those who know his work well. Without overlooking the South African dimension of his fiction, Attridge treats Coetzee as a writer who raises questions of central importance to current debates both within literary studies and more widely in the ethical arena. Implicit throughout the book is Attridge's view that literature, more than philosophy, politics, or even religion, does singular justice to our ethical impulses and acts. Attridge follows Coetzee's lead in exploring a number of issues such as interpretation and literary judgment, responsibility to the other, trust and betrayal, artistic commitment, confession, and the problematic idea of truth to the self.
(20060101) ... Read more

14. Foe: A Novel (King Penguin)
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 160 Pages (1988-01-05)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$6.95
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Asin: 014009623X
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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'A small miracle of a book ...of marvellous intricacy and overwhelming power' - "The Washington Post", Book World. Coetzee reinvents the story of "Robinson Crusoe", directing our attention to the seduction and tyranny of storytelling itself. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (26)

3-0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and provocative, but impenetrably enigmatic
This novel (novella?) is 157 pages.For the first 111 pages I was enthralled, especially as I had read Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" only two months before.FOE is J.M. Coetzee's updated twist of "Robinson Crusoe".("Foe" was Daniel Defoe's surname at birth; he later fancified it.)

FOE is the account of an Englishwoman, Susan Barton, about what happened on the South Atlantic island where Cruso (spelled by her without an "e") and Friday were marooned and how Daniel Foe came to write their story.Years after Cruso and Friday, Susan had been shipwrecked on that same island and she spent a year there with the two men before all three were "rescued" (Cruso and Friday were taken off the island much against their wishes) by a passing English ship.Cruso died before the ship reached England and Susan resolved to tell and publish their collective story in order to make money.So she enters into an arrangement with the experienced writer Daniel Foe.

The problem is that Susan's story about what happened is rather dull.Cruso had no tools, no weaponry, no seeds, nor any writing implements, and he had not transformed the isolated isle into an English Garden of Paradise.He was not imbued with the Protestant work ethic; in truth, he was bland, rude, and somewhat unhinged.Friday was equally asocial; he pursued his own eccentric rituals and what made him even more inscrutable was the fact that his tongue had been cut out by slavers (or, Susan worries, perhaps by Cruso) so that he had no way to express himself vocally.Friday was, in modern parlance, the embodiment of "the Other".Nor had anything especially dramatic ever occurred on the island:no footprints in the sand or attacks by cannibals, for instance.

Though the entire novel is slippery, rendering absolute certitude about anything virtually impossible, I can say with some confidence that Foe found Susan's story unmarketable.Given the actual novel "Robinson Crusoe", it is reasonably safe to conclude that in Coetzee's vision, Foe took many liberties and invented many things and, significantly, he wrote Susan out of the story.

Now we enter the realm where Coetzee's commentary shoulders aside his story.First, of course, there is the matter of ignoring women in our traditional stories of the civilizing of the globe.Friday, deprived of tongue and speech, seemingly stands for some sort of comment (but what, precisely?) on imperialism and colonialism.In addition, there would seem to be comments (but what, precisely?) on language and semiotics, on freedom and slavery, on story-telling and creativity, and on truth.

The novel tantalizingly presents itself as an allegory about something(s), but it ends up being impenetrably enigmatic. That is largely because in its last 45 pages the story spirals out of control. I am left with so little idea of what Coetzee might have been driving at that I really don't care, and I rather suspect that he doesn't really know either.It is almost as if, after writing the first 111 pages, Coetzee dropped some acid before dashing off the concluding 45 pages.Whatever the reason, the last 45 pages strike me much as the dreams of a mystic lunatic and I am left feeling somewhat cheated and resentful.

I understand that FOE is thought by many to be the "archetypal postmodern" novel.I guess I am too old-fashioned.

5-0 out of 5 stars Original and Interesting
This is a very original and unusual retelling of the story of Robinson Crusoe. The protagonist is a female character that does not appear in the original story. Her experiences and adventures greatly expand on the narrative of the shipwrecked traveler. While her presence on the island sheds new light on many already familiar incidents, it also creates a whole set of new ones. Being stranded on a deserted island, however, constitutes just a fraction of this story and the main parts of the narrative deal with events and situations that ensue after the castaways have been rescued.

This is a book where the truth is oftentimes muddied; it is never entirely clear how many of the events have been fabricated full-cloth and how many are genuine. Coetzee manages to develop a narrative style and language that is simultaneously evocative of the conventions of nineteenth century novels and yet fresh and accessible to the modern reader. Although this book is not representative of the themes and situations about which he typically writes, I found this to be perhaps his most original novel. I really enjoyed reading it and felt it was a very refreshing departure from the kinds of books that I have been reading lately. The book is truly a little gem.

5-0 out of 5 stars Another Crusoe
"I am not a story, Mr. Foe. I may impress you as a story because I began my account of myself without preamble, slipping overboard into the waves and striking out for the shore. But [...] there was a life before the water [...] which makes up a story I do not choose to tell. [...] I am a free woman who asserts her freedom by telling her story according to her own desire."

The woman is Susan Barton, speaking to the writer Daniel Defoe (he added the "de" to his family name later). Rescued after being cast away on the Caribbean island, she has sought out the author to write her story and make her fortune. Her island adventure, which she tells in the first part, is a rather different version of the story that we know from ROBINSON CRUSOE. But the larger part of the book consists of a dialogue between Susan and Foe, partly in letters, partly in person, examining the themes referred to here: the nature of the writing process, the way our lives are shaped by the stories we choose to tell about them, and above all the meaning of freedom, especially as a woman or a member of a subjugated race.

Cruso (as the name is spelled here) was already on the island when Susan got there. Instead of the numerous items that Defoe will allow him to salvage from the wreck, Susan's Cruso came ashore with nothing but a knife and lives much more simply. So far from being rescued from cannibals, Friday was washed ashore with him, but he is a mute whose tongue has been cut out in childhood. At sixty, Cruso has no wish to leave the island, and when a ship does arrive to carry them away, he dies on the voyage, leaving Susan as the only witness, other than Friday who cannot speak.

Susan continues to write to Foe, even after he has been forced to flee his creditors. She takes possession of his empty house, sitting at the author's desk, writing letters that may never be delivered. But as she essentially shapes her own narrative, Defoe is simultaneously shaping hers, eventually writing her out of her own tale -- but also adding new elements as though to make a separate novel out of her, as he would later do with MOLL FLANDERS. Hence Susan's forcible objections in the quotation with which I started. Indeed, Defoe's inventions come to take surreal form, as Susan is visited by a long-lost daughter conjured from the writer's imagination in response to her grief, but bearing no resemblance to her real child. Coetzee's interest in recursive narratives has continued to the present day, as in his recent SUMMERTIME, but this 1986 novel is the most intellectually abstract of his that I have read, though fascinating in the manner of an Escher drawing.

But there are serious points behind the mind-games. Most obviously, the feminist complaint that although Susan can serve as Foe's muse, she has no control over the artistic progeny. Her castaway story will be reshaped with the relatively passive Crusoe as hero, whereas Defoe's heroines would all be fallen women. Even more interesting, for a South African author writing under Apartheid, is the silencing of Friday. Unable to speak for himself, unable even to write, Friday's existence depends entirely on those who write his story for him, and even Susan's willingness to accord him the freedom she claims for herself is valueless without the ability to give him the narrative to support it.

4-0 out of 5 stars From a commentary on the problems of colonialism to the postmodern question of what is truth, a remarkable novel
J.M. Coetzee's 1986 novel FOE is a retelling of ROBINSON CRUSOE that uses Daniel Defoe's well-known story as a basis for a bitter commentary on colonialism. To really get anything out of Coetzee's novel, you'll need to read ROBINSON CRUSOE first. The Penguin Popular Classics edition is an inexpensive way to read this important work.

As FOE opens, we are introduced to Susan Barton, an Englishwoman returning from Brazil who is set adrift on the seas by mutineers. She washes up on an island populated by Robinson Crusoe and his servant Friday. Yet, these are not the same characters we've encountered before. Unlike the clever protagonist of Defoe's novel, "Cruso" is a dull old man, complacent with his miserable existence on the island, not wanting rescue and making no effort to better his living condition. Friday is not a the Brazilian cannibal that Defoe portrayed, but a horribly mutilated African slave. When the trio is finally rescued, Cruso soon dies, but Barton and Friday return to England. There Barton encounters Mr. Foe and narrates her story to him, only to find that he is not interested in the remarkable truth of her experiences, but instead bends the story to his own preconceptions.

Coetzee's main message seems to be that Europeans have robbed colonized peoples of their own history. By supressing any report they might make of their past, and forbidding them from speaking now for themselves, the colonizers have reduced the natives to the very savages Europeans claimed they were from the beginning. Towards the end of the novel, Coetzee turns things even more postmodernism, showing how difficult it is to create a "true" narrative.

If I had to compare Coetzee's writing here to anyone else, I'd say that the dialogue reminds me of Harold Pinter, and the enigmatic dream or dream-like sequences towards the end are reminiscent of Gene Wolfe. The novel is only around 150 pages long and can be tranquilly read over the span of a few hours. I found the narrative style somewhat grating, thus my review of four stars, but nonetheless I found this a remarkable and extremely thought-provoking book, and I recommend it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Conflicting Narratives and the Contingency of Truth
On its surface, Foe is a re-imagining of the classic Robinson Crusoe story from the perspective of a woman, Susan Barton, who washes up on Crusoe's (here Cruso's) lonely island. The Cruso story, though, is perhaps better conceived as the setting than the plot of this shimmering and introspective book. The real heart of Coetzee's work is not Cruso and his island, but rather the woman, Susan Barton, and what might be called her narrational struggles. Throughout the novel, Susan attempts to impose and maintain her own telling of the story in the face of opposition from the other characters. She is pitted, at different moments, against Cruso, who denies Susan's request that he keep a journal and whose recollection of the past is murky at best; against Friday, whose inability to speak (possibly because he has no tongue) and refusal to communicate in a way Susan can understand prevents her from internalizing and incorporating him into her narrative; against the girl who claims to be Susan's daughter, and whose conflicting version of Susan's own life disrupts the internal coherence of her story; and against the appropriately-named Foe, the writer, who Susan asks to be the author of her story, and against whom she struggles to maintain the boundaries of her tale and of her life.

Running alongside Susan's struggle is the equally impressive and metaphysically slippery presence of Friday, the silent African slave. Echoing a theme common to many of Coetzee's novels, Friday's 'otherness' is, for Susan, inaccessible and a challenge to her worldview, and she responds to his aloof silence with alternating anger and entreaty, attempts to conquer and co-opt. Friday's refusal to communicate with Susan on her terms can be seen, at some level, as an act of resistance against her insistence that he be incorporated into her story and be re-written from her perspective, and also, perhaps, as a metaphor for the ultimate act of post-colonial defiance - the refusal to be incorporated into European world-narratives.

At the end of the day, it is never clear which of these many narratives holds the 'truth' the story, and, indeed, the novel's implication is that 'truth' is ultimately just another word for 'dominant narrative'. A fascinating and intellectually challenging read. ... Read more

15. Foe
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 160 Pages (1988-01-05)
list price: US$10.00 -- used & new: US$18.54
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Asin: 0140110321
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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In this brilliant reshaping of Defoe's classic tale starring Robinson Crusoe, Coetzee explores the relationships between speech and silence, master and slave, story and storyteller, and sanity and madness. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Original and Interesting
This is a very original and unusual retelling of the story of Robinson Crusoe. The protagonist is a female character that does not appear in the original story. Her experiences and adventures greatly expand on the narrative of the shipwrecked traveler. While her presence on the island sheds new light on many already familiar incidents, it also creates a whole set of new ones. Being stranded on a deserted island, however, constitutes just a fraction of this story and the main parts of the narrative deal with events and situations that ensue after the castaways have been rescued.

This is a book where the truth is oftentimes muddied; it is never entirely clear how many of the events have been fabricated full-cloth and how many are genuine. Coetzee manages to develop a narrative style and language that is simultaneously evocative of the conventions of nineteenth century novels and yet fresh and accessible to the modern reader. Although this book is not representative of the themes and situations about which he typically writes, I found this to be perhaps his most original novel. I really enjoyed reading it and felt it was a very refreshing departure from the kinds of books that I have been reading lately. The book is truly a little gem. ... Read more

16. In the Heart of the Country: A Novel
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 144 Pages (1982-10-28)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$6.90
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Asin: 0140062289
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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A novel set in colonial South Africa, where a lonely sheepfarmer makes a bid for private salvation in the arms of a black concubine, while his daughter dreams of and executes a bloody revenge. From the author of DUSKLANDS and WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

5-0 out of 5 stars A lost life in a lost land
The main character in this naturalistic novel is a young woman, despised by her father, who never forgave his wife for failing to bear him a son: `Wooed when we were little by our masterful fathers, we are bitter vestals, spoiled for life. The childhood rape'.

While her father is a pure example of `the psychology of masters', she symbolizes `the heart of the country', `this bare land where people live naked beneath each other's hawkeyes, but live so under protest. Our resentment of each other, though buried in our breasts, sometimes rises to choke us.'
The hearth of the country is `a forsaken land full of melancholic spinsters lost to history.'
The young woman dreams of redemption by marriage to another lost soul, `though it would not astonish me if I were barren.'

When her father chooses a new black wife, she becomes `a black widow spider and engulfs whoever passes in her venom.' Even the black servants have to leave her, for everybody lives in this part of the world outside the law, therefore live only by the law they recognize in themselves. `This part of the world is naked in every direction to the eye of the hunter; he who cannot burrow is lost.'
But, `why do I not run away from the farm and die in civilization?' Because `I am corrupted to the bone with the beauty of this forsaken world. It takes generations of life to drive that nostalgia for country ways from the heart.'

In this raw picture of `a district outside the law' with its violent outer and inner confrontations between father and daughter, black and white, master and slave, virginity and longing for sexual intercourse, hate and melancholy, city and countryside, lawlessness and civilization, freedom and boredom and ultimately life and death, J.M. Coetzee portrayed a doomed land dominated by people who were obsessed only by the past.

Highly recommended to all lovers of world literature.

5-0 out of 5 stars noidea
I received the book very quickly so I thank the sender.
The book had written things on it but it does not matter, I was not asking for a brand-new book!

3-0 out of 5 stars Strange Landscape
This was a book club choice and it certainly instigated a rousing discussion among our members. The general concensus was that it was well written but with an obscure thread of purpose. It touches on madness, lonliness, aparteid, domination and subjegation. Personally, I would rather have taken a course in any of these subjects than to have tried to pick out the pieces from this book. One thing of interest (though I can't say I saw the reason for it) is that it is the only book I have ever read where each paragraph is numbered.

5-0 out of 5 stars J. M. CoetzeeIn The Heart of The Country
A fantastic book at a great price.The book arrived promptly and in great condition.I would buy from this seller again.It is definatly a used book, with some writing and underlining, but they are relavant
to the story.Overall, I do not regret this purchase.

5-0 out of 5 stars The stifling torpor of colonial South Africa
Magda is a lonely and embittered spinster who lives on a sheep farm in the heart of South Africa. Her mother died in childbirth, the cause of which Magda attributes to her father's "relentless sexual demands". Her bitterness comes from the fact that she feels that she has been an absence all her life to her father. They have always fronted each other in silence and so Magda became an unhappy peasant, "a miserable black virgin, "the mad hag" she is destined to be, having grown up with the servants' children.
Deprived of human intercourse, Magda realises that she overvalues the imagination. That is why when her father brings home a new bride, she fantacises of killing them both with an axe. The lonely farm is the place where she is "devoured by boredom", engulfed in the "monologue of the self" like a maze of words out of which she can't escape and she feels doomed to expire there "in the heart of the country", "in the middle of nowhere", a place she considers "was never intended that people should live here". Magda's father's sexual relationship with Hendrik's wife, the black servant, only adds to her dismay. It thus doesn't come as a surprise, given Magda's psychological disposition, that she often dreams of burning everything down and that she is actually about to murder the one person she considers responsible for her despair. After that, what is left for her but an inexorable descent into madness?
As André Brink stated about this novel: "It says something about loneliness, about craving for love, about the relation between master and slave and between white and black, and about a man's earthly anguish and longing for salvation - in a way you do not easily escape from once it has gripped you". ... Read more

17. Summertime: Fiction
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 272 Pages (2010-10-26)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$8.66
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Asin: 0143118455
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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"Not since Disgrace, has he written with such urgency and feeling." -The New Yorker

Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee's new book follows a young biographer as he works on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. The biographer embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to Coetzee during the period when he was "finding his feet as a writer"-in his thirties and sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. Their testimonies create an image of an awkward, reserved, and bookish young man who finds it difficult to connect with the people around him. An innovative and inspired work of fiction-incisive, elegant, and often surprisingly funny- Summertime allows one of the most revered writers of our time to imagine his own life with a critical and unsparing eye. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (19)

5-0 out of 5 stars More frog than prince
This is a `portrait of the artist as an outsider'. Having read some of Coetzee's novels, I have come to respect the man, but never wholly liked him, in the sense of looking forward to his next book. He doesn't make me feel `at home', not on the same wavelength. And guess what, this book addresses me as the typical Coetzee reader. The man knows perfectly who his clientele is.
I picked up Summertime because some amazon friends praised it and because the subject interested me: a playful variation on autobiography.

A writer called John Coetzee has died and an academic called Vincent collects material for a biography, focusing on the narrow slot of the 1970s. That fact shows that this Coetzee can't have been a nobody. He must have written something important to be the recipient of this kind of attention. But we are not told much about that. Vincent interviews people who knew Coetzee in the 1970s, when he lived with his widowed father in a modest house in a Cape suburb.
This John Coetzee that we read about is a most uninteresting man, a loser type in his 30s, living with his loser type of a father. He is an unemployed academic and he does things that a normal man of his social background would not do, like manual labor around his house. One hires hands for that. We learn that he has just published a book, Duskland.
We find out that he is a bore and that nobody has much good to say about him.

That turns the attention to the informers.
Vincent interviews bossy Julia Kis, of Hungarian Jewish descent, former expert in German lit (Novalis and Benn), but also in Henry James (and incidentally a namesake of one of the great European writers ofthe 20th). Now she is a psychotherapist living in Canada, but not of the Freudian persuasion. She analyses her own life as if she were a James protagonist. John Coetzee was a tool for her, a revenge helper when her husband was cheating on her. He helped her sexual emancipation. He does not signify.
In an outburst of wrath, decades after the event, she curses JC for having tried to make love with her to Schubert's string quintet. A woman is no violin! (She suspects that he would even have tried to use a woman like a bassoon. I can't make much of that allegation, but I am sure bassoonists would know.)

Source number two is Coetzee's cousin Margot, full of dissatisfaction. When young Coetzee had returned from the US and showed up in South Africa again unexpectedly, his relatives suspected that he had done jail time abroad. We learn that this was related to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
It turns out in the course of the discussions that her contempt is fueled by disappointment. She had thought that JC would break the mould of Coetzeean family mediocrity.

Source three is a Brasilian dancer, a mother of a student in an English class that JC taught. He had fallen for her and received honest contempt in return. Adriana despised weak men. JC failed to reach her. In another hopeless attempt he tries the Schubert string quintet trick once more, to no avail.
John Coetzee does not signify (I just picked up that expression from Trollope) to any of Vincent's sources. He was an outsider, an accidental and irrelevant encounter.
Comedy is what you get when principles bump into reality. We are not happy with ourselves when we find these sad stories funny.
To make sure that we don't walk away with a light heart, the book ends with the father's throat cancer and with thoughts about doing away with oneself.

There is some `notebook' material added to the interviews, allegedly written by the subject of the study. It gives us political background and some personal perspective. His rejection of his country's political system and situation ran deep. These pages are declared to be a true source, different from the slanted perspective of the interviewees. However, even that assumption is rocked by the fact that the notes were obviously written for an intended memoir. So what are we left with?
We are being played with. A thoroughly captivating game that J.M. Coetzee plays with us. Very recommendable.

5-0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, complex and subtle
A brilliant, complex and subtle work. Though labelled "fiction" it centers on Coetzee himself and is thus an odd and original sort of personal memoir. Attempting to sort out what isautobiographical and what is fantasy makes the book intriguing as well as somewhat frustrating. But even when frustrating, Coetzee's writing is superior to virtually anything else on the contemporary literary horizon.

2-0 out of 5 stars If you like depressing, but honest, books I guess you'll find this a must read
I actually read this book twice because I simply didn't want to believe that an award-winning author could create a novel full of such bleakness, however honest. Written in interview form (primarily), several people recount their opinions of Coetzee. Since J.M. Coetzee is writing the book, it could presumably be autobiographical but it is written as fiction so the reader has to guess how accurate it is.

SPOILER ALERT: the ending of this book was the clincher for me. While I may have had doubts about how accurately the interviewees knew Coetzee, the ending is written by "Coetzee" or the fictional Coetzee and involves a decision about whether to care for his father or desert him totally, a recurrent theme in the book.

The J. M. Coetzee in this book is cast as a distant, unkempt, odd person, someone who blunders about when it comes to sex and is a puzzle to most of those who know him. I couldn't wait to get rid of this book, no matter how acclaimed the author. Reading the book twice, checking reviews, researching the author...was enough for me. Somehow I must havemissed the point of this one entirely.

3-0 out of 5 stars Can we call Coetzee the guy without an ego?
There's never a negative review on the cover. Not that this book deserves a negative review, but neither is it mesmerizing. Coetzee has written his own autobiography in the form of a novel.It isn't much about his writing career, which is as far as I know, is what he is noted for.
The writer interviews several people with whom Coetzee had relationships at some time in his life. His relationships, as characterized in the book, are, well, pitiful. Sexually, he's cold as a fish, robotic. A comparison is made to Kafka.
However, it's worth reading, partly because the happenings are engaging. But also, because many people who achieve fame can't avoid flattering themselves that they are better than most of humanity. Coetzee seems to have little ego and no apparent need to make himself look good. This is a kind of honesty that is to be cherished.
So Diogenes, that honest man you were looking for, well is he here, or is Coetzee telling the story so baldly that others will feel compelled to tell of a man who was better than his autobiography said he was. Or is he suggesting, that the great are different and allowed to be so.

Where Lilacs Bloom RVing Solo Across America . . . without a cat, dog, man, or gun

5-0 out of 5 stars "What I am telling you may not be true to the letter...
"... but it is true to the spirit." Julia, one of the interviewees, admits to Vincent, the young academic, researching the life of one John Coetzee, deceased."The story you wanted to hear and the story you are getting will be nothing more than a matter of perspective ..." While John was for Julia just an episode in her life, for Vincent, she continues, " by dint of a quick flip... followed by some clever editing, you can transform it into a story about John and one of the women who passed through his life."Her assessment of the biographer's approach to his subject can be applied just as easily to J.M. Coetzee himself.He creates five scenarios, each engaging in its own way, in which John is supposedly the centre of the story.The author even teases the reader with numerous biographical facts of the real J.M. Coetzee, but is, what we are presented with, anything close to a biography?Adriana, another intervieweeasks: "What is this?... What kind of a biography are you writing?" We are constantly encouraged to ask the same question.

SUMMERTIME, anticipated as the continuation to the author's fictionalized autobiographies, or "autofiction", Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life and Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, may not be even that.Vincent, having studied John's diaries and notebooks, travels the world to fill in some gaps and, hopefully, discover new facets of the man's inner emotional being, especially during that decisive time in his subject's life, the mid nineteen seventies. He interviews five individuals - lovers, real or unreciprocated, a close relative and colleagues - some thirty years after the period of interest to him.It is easy to conclude that his interviewees' memories are less than precise after all that time and that each encounter with a 'witness' will shed only some diffuse light on the person under discussion, and more on the interviewee.John Coetzee's own words are added as the opening and the concluding section. While interesting in a broader sense, will they shed more light on the person? It is up to the reader to decide.

With the five interviews that characterize the structure of his "memoir" J.M. Coetzeeplays with more than our curiosity to compare John and J.M's personalities and life experiences.Structurally, he varies between an interview setting where the interviewee takes factual liberties when creatively retelling the story of her time in the vicinity of John (Julia), or one where Vincent, the fictional interviewer, retells acreatively rewritten interview with John's cousin Margot, or a more confrontational setting that Vincent encounters with Adriana, the Brazilian dance teacher. Each of these, and to a lesser degree the last two interviews, shed some light on John's intimate life at the time, yet, they are even more engaging for what they say about the social, political and personal environment of the person interviewed.The depiction of John is not very flattering. For example, Julia thought that "... his mental capacities, and specifically his ideational faculties, were overdeveloped, at the cost of his animal self. " His cousin Margot, on the other hand, felt that John was always struggling against the Coetzee inheritance:he was not a "slapgat" a person lacking backbone, choosing the easiest path through life.Adriana, whose had reasons for her hostility towards John summed him up: "He was not a man of substance. Maybe he could write well, maybe had a certain talent for words, I don't know... to mymind a talent for words is not enough if you want to be a great writer.And he was not a great man. He was a little man, an unimportant little man. "Finally, Vincent, while addressing Sophie, the last of the interviewees, expresses a warning to any gullible reader: " "What Coetzee writes there cannot be trusted, not as a factual record - not because he was a liar but because he was a fictioneer. In his letters he is making up a fiction of himself for his correspondents; in his diaries he is doing much the same for his own eyes, or perhaps for posterity,..."

This is exactly what J.M. Coetzee did - creating a fictioneer's account of somebody who may have traits of himself, or, very likely, not so many - and having great fun with entertaining the reader with the stories.Hisintimate knowledge of the social and political conditions in South Africa, life in Cape Town as well as the remote region of the Karoo shines through and gives the novel an added depth and a reality check.The interviews are exquisitely crafted and complement the multi-faceted portrait of a fictioneer written by an even greater fictioneer.[Friederike Knabe]
... Read more

18. Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005
by J. M. Coetzee
Hardcover: 320 Pages (2007-07-19)
list price: US$25.95 -- used & new: US$5.36
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Asin: B0014EAWYK
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A collection of essays on literature by one of the world's finest writers: a must read ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

4-0 out of 5 stars Essays on W.G. Sebald, Joseph Roth, Sandor Marai, Gunter Grass, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, et al.
INNER WORKINGS is a collection of 21 essays by J.M. Coetzee, 16 of which first appeared (in an earlier form) in the "New York Review of Books."With the sole exception of Walt Whitman, all of the subjects are authors of the 20th century (several are still alive and productive, though years from now they surely will be thought of as 20th-century writers).For the most part the essays follow the format common to the "New York Review of Books":some biographical information about the author; relatively brief discussion of his (or, in the case of Nadine Gordimer, her) place or significance in 20th-century literature; more detailed discussion of one or more works of the author; and, where applicable, some mention of the merits of the translation into English.

I was prompted to buy the book when, picking it up in the bookstore last week and skimming its table of contents, I saw that a number of the essays deal with authors I have been reading in the past two or three years -- specifically, the ones listed in the title to this review.I have now read the essays on those authors, as well as ones on Italo Svevo, Robert Musil, and Graham Greene.If and when I have time to read (or re-read) several other authors covered in the book (e.g., Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Philip Roth), I will make a point of going back and reading what Coetzee has to say about them.

The essays are intelligent and informative, well-written and easily comprehensible.There is no in-depth analysis or exegesis, but neither are the essays superficial.Only in some of the essays does Coetzee express strong critical judgments.A few of those are negative.(For instance, he concludes that Sandor Marai's novelistic achievements are "slight.")I don't think INNER WORKINGS constitutes literary criticism or analysis of the first order, but that's alright by me.In each essay I read there was enough new information or fresh perspectives on the author and work(s) at issue to make my reading the essay worth my time.

I will end by quoting two sentences from Coetzee's essay on W.G. Sebald:"Sebald did not call himself a novelist -- prose writer was the term he preferred -- but his enterprise nevertheless depends for its success on attaining lift-off from the biographical or the essayistic -- the prosaic in the everyday sense of the word -- into the realm of the imaginative.The mysterious ease with which he is able to achieve such lift-off is the clearest proof of his genius."

4-0 out of 5 stars That German Influence
Coetzee, whose background is Dutch, lives in Australia. He is known, of course, as a South African, but his roots belong to Europe. He has an affinity for the hard, dense German authors and writes about them well. As in his other collected essays, he likes to talk about translators and their work. Clearly, he has the expertise to do so. His close readings of Celan's poetry and of Kafka's prose give one an insight into his mental processes, which are exacting. Unlike Sontag, for example, one doesn't always come away excited to read further; instead one feels duty-bound to do so. I especially appreciated his essay on Arthur Miller's "The Misfits," which is an often ignored masterpiece of John Huston. He offers appraisals of Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Walter Benjamin, and other modern masters of the German-speaking world. These, too, are Sontag's favorites. On Americans such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he covers familiar territory, but seems to have no feeling for their humor. He faults Bellow for not doing more with philosophy, which may be fair, but doesn't touch sufficiently on the development of his comic genius. In my view, Sontag writes a better essay, while Coetzee writes far superior fiction.

5-0 out of 5 stars Magisterial
This bundle of essays contains superb reviews of important authors and (part of) their work.
Hereafter, a brief summary of Coetzee's comments and evaluations, with a few remarks.

Italo Svevo considered himself as a peer, a fellow researcher of Freud into the grip of the unconscious on conscious life.
Robert Musil (Young Törless) was skeptical of the power of reason to guide human conduct.
Robert Walzer (Jakob von Gunten) considered himself as a `Man von Unten' (an underdog).
Bruno Schulz's book `Cinnamon Shops' is a recreation of childhood consciousnesses, full of terror, obsessions and crazy glories.
Joseph Roth's `The Radetzky March' is a great poem of elegy to Habsburg Austria.
Sándor Márai considered himself as a dupe of history. He behaved like a caricature of the bourgeois intellectual, scorning the rabble of the right and the left.
Günter Grass's `Crabwalk' should be considered a breakthrough, as war crimes against Germans during WW II are not taboo anymore.
Graham Greene's `Brighton Rock' is a confrontation between religious Good and Evil and materialist right and wrong.
For Saul Bellow, literature is an interpretation of the chaos of life.
Philip Roth's `The Plot against America' paints a vision of a world based on hatred and suspicion, a world of them and us.
Nadine Gordimer's `The Pickup' is a dismissal of the false gods of the West, the gods of market capital.
Gabriel García Márquez's so-called magic realism is simply a matter of telling hard-to-believe stories.
For V.S. Naipaul, self-denial is the road of weakness.
J.M. Coetzee pierces the veil of Walt Whitman's amativeness. Whitman's democracy is a civic religion energized by a broadly erotic feeling.
J.M. Coetzee gives brilliant comments on translation problems for hermetic poetry (Paul Celan). Hermetic poetry seems to be mostly, as it is here, more puzzle work than poetry.
I only disagree with the author's review of Samuel Beckett's work. Here I side with another Nobel Prize winner, Naguib Mahfuz (Adrift on the Nile).

This book is a must read for all lovers of world literature. Of course, one should read most of the books reviewed in these essays.

3-0 out of 5 stars Nice Collection
Coetzee has recently emerged as one of the leading figures in contemporary fiction. His style is dark, obscure, and undeniably Kafkaesque. If you'd like to learn who his other literary influences are, this volume is an excellent help.

Coetzee is highly preoccupied with modernist German literature. There are some excellent reviews in here on Walter Benjamin, Paul Celan, Gunter Grass, and Robert Musil. He also weighs in on American heavy-weights like William Faulkner and Saul Bellow.

The bulk of the content in here is predominantly biographical. I particularly enjoyedhis discussion of Faulkner's peculiarly hermetic life, as well as his elaboration on the common view of Benjamin's final days in Europe.

All in all, 'Inner Workings' is a fine collection of essays, and a very enjoyable read, though it is far from landmark literary criticism.

3-0 out of 5 stars Occasional Thoughts on Literature
"Inner Workings" represents a collection of J.M. Coetzee's literary essays from 2000-2005. The majority, even those on important figures, are little more than book reviews or occasional work; they are almost never "critical" in either sense of the term. Coetzee's usual approach is to provide a general summary of the book under consideration, an overview of the author's life story, and a brief concluding remark that is more often than not laudatory or so gnomic as to hardly provide any literary perspective. That being said there is a great deal to be learned from this volume, especially in regard to the Central European authors who either influenced Kafka or were influenced by him. A majority of these authors were Jewish and Coetzee comprehensively discusses the manner in which their lives were compromised either through surrender to the majoritarian culture or through outright physical annihilation. The roster of middle European authors includes Italo Svevo, Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Walter Benjamin (a fine essay), Bruno Schulz, Joseph Roth, and (by extension)Paul Celan; an essay on Franz Kafka would have been a logical inclusion. Coetzee is very good on the hazards of translation, especially in regard to German-speaking writers. The second area of emphasis is on post-World War II American and English authors like Graham Greene, Beckett, Faulkner, Bellow, Arthur Miller and Philip Roth. He takes Roth's measure accurately and his love of Bellow as perhaps the greatest writer of his generation is evident. As a poet I especially enjoyed his explications of Celan and Whitman. His essay on Gabriel Garcia Marquez is somewhat dismissive, critiquing "Memories of My Melancholy Whores" as an updating and apologia for "Love in The Time of Cholera", the brilliance of which he severely underestimates. Of most of his opinions there is little to argue with; whether we read these writers with more intelligence because of what he himself has written is subject to dispute. At times it seems as if he writes only to acknowledge his fellow Nobel Laureates but he does manage to humanize them, and for that we can be grateful. ... Read more

19. The Master of Petersburg: A Novel
by J. M. Coetzee
Paperback: 256 Pages (1995-11-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.16
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140238107
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The great Russian novelist Dostoevsky, obsessed with discovering whether his stepson's sudden death was murder or suicide, finds himself drawn into the violent revolutionary subculture of 1869 Russia, in a work of fiction that is both mystery and psychological portrait. Reprint. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (17)

3-0 out of 5 stars Not his best
Coetzee gives a pronounced yet creative bending of the arm to Dostoevsky. A nuanced piece, it works rather nicely as a companion piece to "Demons."

3-0 out of 5 stars And in the final chapter you ask whaaat?
In most of the literary journals they tell us that Dostoyevsky use a lot of its own sufferings and personal difficulties to draw its characters on the novels, but here, the author using that premise as support of its book, show us a person who lacks any clear understanding of its own motivations and that revolves around ideas without reason or rime. I believe that is why in last chapter is like a sketch of an ending and makes no sense at all, because the author lost track of what he wanted to portray.

4-0 out of 5 stars Superb novel that shows the dichotomy of human nature
Coetzee once again displays his masterful depiction of human nature, the broad spectrum of it, the shallowness of it.I believe that Coetzee is a man that truly understands how to evoke responses in readers by showing us things that we take for granted everyday.I also believe that Coetzee is a man that greatly admired Aldous Huxley, for it was Huxley that said human beings have an infinite capacity to take things for granted.In Master of Petersberg, Coetzee shows a complex character like Dostoevsky, a man already hardened by time in a gulag(sentenced by the czar for subversive activities.)We see a man that is plagued by enormous contradictions.On the one hand he is determined to get to the bottom of his stepson's mysterious death, yet his motives for his search are questionable.Is he doing it because he had unyielding love?Or,is he pursuing it because he wants to find out whether Pavel was a revolutionary working for Nachaev, or did Pavel commit suicide out of spite like Beethoven's nephew?The only drawback for Coetzee that I can find is his tendency on some specific occasions in all of his books(Disgrace,Foe...) is that he goes off on tangents of inner-monologue that make some of the points that he is trying to make either ambiguious or in my opinion irrelevant.Buy this book, read J.M Coetzee, his books have changed the way I view the world.I also like how he correlates much of the issues that plague his native South Africa, although this novel does not do that, Disgrace does that in such vivid detail you can feel the pain and seperation in South African society, Foe does it in a more subtle way.

5-0 out of 5 stars Following the dance of the pen
In J. M. Coetzee's "The Master of Petersburg" when the main character is asked what kind of books he writes, he doesn't know what to respond. Page later, thinking about it he concludes he could have said he `write[s] perversions of the truth. [He chooses] the crooked road and take[s] the children into dark places. [He] follow[s] the dance of the pen'.

In novel "The Master of Petersburg" South African writer Coetzee could state that of book he writes is the same kind of his character's -- who, by the way, happens to be Russian master Fyodor Dostoevsky. Once the contemporary writer picks the nineteen-century author as his main character and draws the narrative following a period of his life, the novel develops a dialogue between past and present.

Coetzee is one of the best and boldest writers alive and working. He is at the prime of his career and had proven it for over ten years, producing relevant books dealing with current issues -- or past issues that resonates in the present. "The Master of Petersburg" is not different. Although the story is set in 1869, the narrative echoes in the present once it portrays a man in quest of the truth. This truth is linked to social problems of dissatisfaction and will of revolution.

Part a thriller, part a mediation on life and arts, this book asks the reader to fully give himself to the narrative. The characters are very vivid and while very local, they reach universal dimensions.Dostoevsky's books bridges past and present in the narrative. The allusions are very subtle and the more you know about the Russian writer, the more rewarding will be the experience of reading this book.

When it comes to contemporary writers, Coetzee is one of the very likely to have a timeless body of work -- just like Dostoevsky and other masters. There is no doubt that in two-hundred year time people will still be reading the South African author just like we read the Russians today.

1-0 out of 5 stars gloom and doom
A very disappointing read from an author I admire.The book creates a dreary and morbid atmosphere, and none of the characters are in the least bit attractive or sympathetic. The plot is slow and convoluted. The insight into the writing process is brief. A waste of time. ... Read more

20. A Posthumous Confession (New York Review Books Classics)
by Marcellus Emants
Paperback: 208 Pages (2011-02-22)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$9.45
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1590173473
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A Posthumous Confession is narrated by Termeer, a deeply frustrated man who persuades himself that only in murder can he find ultimate satisfaction. Emotionally stunted, thanks to his upbringing by forbidding and condemning parents—they never miss a chance to remind him that he is a worthless mediocrity—Termeer is rapidly living up to their low expectations when, to his own and others’ astonishment, he successfully woos a beautiful and gifted woman. But instead of finding happiness in his marriage, he discovers it to be a new source of self-hatred, hatred that he directs at his innocent wife and child. And when he becomes caught up in an affair with a woman as demanding as his own self-loathing, Termeer murders his wife.

What is the self? What makes it go permanently, murderously wrong? Marcellus Emants’s lacerating exploration of this age-old tragic question looks backward to Dostoyevsky and forward to Simenon, and beyond that to the memoirs of our own day. ... Read more

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