Author: J.M. Coetzee, 2003 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature
Classification: South Africa-Fiction
PoV: third person narrative (sort of)
Random Quote: “So: once she was only a little tadpole in her mother’s body, and now here she is, solid in her existence, more solid than he has ever been. With luck she will last a long time, long beyond him” (217).
- the loss of respect, honor, or esteem;
- a person act or thing that cause shame, reproach, or dishonor.
This was one of those books I found in the employee suggestions section at Barnes and Noble, with a scribble of a quote by someone named Ben or Brad. Ben, or Brad, ended up being the employee who completed my transaction for the book, in one of those awkward interactions where he goes ‘oh’ when he sees the book, says it’s good and that I’ll like it, and I go ‘oh great’ knowing that he was the employee from the employee suggestions section. Practically a celebrity. Anyway, little did I know that as I began reading this book about post-apartheid South Africa, that the world would be losing one of its most influential leaders, Nelson Mandela. To be honest, my knowledge is of apartheid… and really Africa as a whole is vague to say the least. Aside from the superficial and stereotypical facts I’ve collected over the years. Upon starting the book, though, I didn’t even know it was about post-apartheid South Africa, and once you figure that out it can change the reading experience. You can really read it, or interpret it, at two different levels. You can read it simply as a story about a professor, David Lurie, who has an “affair” with a student and the repercussions he does, or does not face, as he disappears into rural life at his daughter’s farm. There is a lot going on in the book at this level alone. There are themes of power, rape, gender, and sexuality, all of which can tie back to feelings of shame and dishonor (thus disgrace). However, on another level, it is very much a criticism of post-apartheid South Africa, which seems contradictory to my knowledge of post-apartheid South Africa.
To me, post-apartheid South Africa, a culture without legalized segregation = good. However, history is never quite that simple. Many of the socioeconomic conditions created during apartheid didn’t change, and economic inequality amongst the races only grew after apartheid was disbanded, resulting in an increase in poverty and crime in post-apartheid South Africa. But if history has taught us anything it’s that the road to positive change is a slow and bumpy one. Enough of my ranting though.
My synopsis: David Lurie, a seemingly regular womanizer, and professor of literature in South Africa, has an affair with a student. Once it goes sour, he takes off to his daughter’s farm in a remote party of the country to hide from, or ignore, the repercussions of his affair. While David struggles to adjust to rural life, him and his daughter are attacked. This is the defining part of the novel and everything else unravels from there.
What I liked: I enjoyed all the different layers of the book and that it was one of the stories that makes you uncomfortable. But sinks its hooks into you so you can’t help but finish in hopes things will be resolved.
What I didn’t like: I’m not sure if this is something I liked… or didn’t like, but the details of the story are somewhat vague. I think its more of a Coetzee’s writing style though, and something I’ve often noticed about writers not from the United States compared to those within. Writers from the United States often have a tendency (in my opinion anyways) over explain. We write entire books about maybe one day. Whereas I notice some foreign writers have a tendency to keep things basic, or rather are more concise in their writing. It works, but maybe as an ‘American’ writer and reader I feel that something is lacking, that really intense moments should have been drawn out more, and it makes me uncomfortable that there wasn’t more for me to grab onto. So.. there’s that.
Recommend: If you’re looking for a quick easy read, this is not it. Though it is short, and the writing itself isn’t complicated, it makes you stop and ask a lot of questions and sticks with you throughout the day. But if you’re into that kind of thing, go for it!
Also apparently there is an Australian adaptation of the book with John Malkovich that I would be interested in checking out.
I’ve included a NY Times Review in case you want more information.
Live with dishonor, die in disgrace
Arty the Alien