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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 129 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 7, 2003

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From Booker to Nobel

Sanyat Sattar

J. M. Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel Prize winner in literature, put his step towards the winning stream after winning the Booker Prize in 1999 for the bestseller Disgrace. This South African novelist is a portrayer of a desolate vision of his racially divided country with a lean allegorical style comparable to with Franz Kafka and Samuel Becket, for his ruthless criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of Western civilization.


Elizabeth Costello
J. M. Coetzee
Viking Press; October 2003

Although it's billed as "a novel masquerading as a biography," some readers may speculate that Coetzee's newest is a biography posing as a novel, or even lectures formed into fiction (six portions were previously published separately). The format is instantly intriguing. Elizabeth Costello is a near-elderly Australian novelist who remains best known for an early work in which she appropriates James Joyce's Ulysses character, Molly Bloom. Coetzee tackles problems of writing, literature, philosophy, and family through eight "lessons," most of which centre on a lengthy formal address. The struggle for self-expression comes to a wrenching climax when Elizabeth faces a final reckoning and finds herself at a loss for words. This is a novel of weighty ideas, concerned with what it means to be human and with the difficult and seductive task of making meaning. It is a resounding achievement by Coetzee and one that will linger with the reader long after its reverberating conclusion.

Youth: Scenes From Provincial Life II
J. M. Coetzee
Viking Press; July 2002

One need not have read Boyhood, Coetzee's previous autobiographical account, to appreciate this sequel, as he continues to look back on his quest for identity and a yearned-for vocation as a poet. Written from a third-person, present-tense point of view, but intimately describing the inner life of John. This slim memoir examines several years of Coetzee's expatriate life as he flees Cape Town in the 1960s to educate himself and pursue his destiny in London. And surely it's a bleak time. A series of failed encounters, sexual and social, leave the emotionally immature protagonist feeling lonely and isolated. Though he fails to make his intense and awkward personality particularly appealing, Coetzee succeeds in defining the dilemma of the 'artist-as-a-young-man' in sympathetic if angst-ridden terms that reflect the doubts of those who decide to devote their lives to literature without any idea of how they can make a meaningful contribution.

J. M. Coetzee
Viking Press; June 1985

Coetzee's Dusklands is composed by two totally different stories: the first one about the Vietnamese war and the second one about the destruction of a Hottentot village by a Dutch explorer. The small thematic link between the two is the violent intrusion of foreigners into national (tribal) territories and affairs. The original treatment of the two stories is also completely different. Yet both of the stories seem to be influenced by Freudian psychology, and the last one more specifically by Freud's 'Totem und Tabu'. Dusklands is a fascinating read. It illuminates another facet (or two) of the human condition. It is deceptively quick light reading-- subtly profound while intellectually massive and a delicate jackhammer. However, this piece stays more or less pasted to the treated themes.



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