Read synopses of some of the novels of Nobel prize winning writer, South African J.M. Coetzee, and then compare them.

Coetzee's novels

Instructions

Do the Preparation task first. Then go to Text and read the poem or story (you can also listen to the audio while you read). Next go to Task and do the activity.

Audio icon Download audio 4.0MB (right click & save)

The novels of J.M. Coetzee

Dusklands

The novel actually consists of two separate stories. The first one, The Vietnam Project, relates the gradual descent into insanity of its protagonist Eugene Dawn. Eugene works for a U.S. government agency responsible for the psychological warfare in the Vietnam War. However, his work on mythography and psychological operations is taking a heavy toll on him; his fall culminates in him stabbing his own son, Martin.

The second story, The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee, which takes place in the 18th century, is an account of a hunting expedition into the then unexplored interior of South Africa. After crossing the Orange River, Jacobus meets with a Namaqua tribe to trade, but suddenly falls ill. He is attended to by the tribe and gradually recovers, only to get into a fight for which he is expelled from the village. His last slave dying on the way home, he returns alone and later organizes a punitive expedition against the Namaqua. The narrative concludes with his execution of the slaves that deserted him on the previous journey and the massacre of the tribe.

In the Heart of the Country

In the Heart of the Country (1977) is a novel which delves into the the complex relationships that form between the colonizer and the colonized. It takes place on a desolate farm in South Africa told through the perspective of an intelligent yet meek European woman. She clashes with her father when he takes an African mistress causing a rift that leads towards vengeance, violence and a muddling of her own relationship with the Africans.

Waiting for the Barbarians

The story is set in a small frontier town of a nameless empire. The town's magistrate is the story's main protagonist and narrator. His rather peaceful existence on the frontier comes to an end with the arrival of some special forces of the Empire, led by a sinister Colonel Joll. There are rumours that the barbarians are preparing an attack on the Empire. That is why Colonel Joll and his men conduct an expedition into the land beyond the frontier. They capture a number of "barbarians", bring them back to town, torture them, kill some of them, and leave for the Empire's capital in order to prepare a larger campaign against the barbarians. In the meantime, the Magistrate becomes involved with a "barbarian girl" who was left behind crippled and blinded by the torturers. Eventually, he decides to take her back to her people. After a life-threatening trip through the barren land, he returns to his village. Shortly thereafter, the Empire's forces return and the Magistrate's own plight begins.

Life and Times of Michael K

After her death, she is cremated and the ashes given to him. He vows to return them to her birthplace. He begins a long, arduous journey across the country to her childhood farm, sleeping rough and enduring many hardships along the way. The country is at war, and he sees many convoys going past. One of the soldiers ransacks his belongings and takes his money.

Eventually he reaches the place of his destination and finds the place deserted, the owners long gone. He scatters the ashes on the ground and takes up residence there. He kills goats and birds for food and drinks from the nearby dam. A member of the old family comes and wanting to escape the war, hides in the farmhouse.

Foe

"Returning from Bahia, where she has been searching for a lost daughter, Susan Barton is put off the ship after a mutiny; she is accompanied only by the dead body of the captain, whose mistress she had been. She swims ashore and finds herself on the island with Cruso and Friday. Friday has been mutilated: he has no tongue. Who did this, where or how it happened, we are never told. After their rescue by a passing merchantman, Cruso dies aboard the ship and Susan and Friday are left to make their way to England. After she arrives in England, Susan drafts a memoir, "The Female Castaway" and seeks out the author, Foe, to have her story told. Coetzee's novel comprises four parts: beginning with Susan's memoir, it continues with a series of letters addressed to Foe, letters that do not reach him because he is hiding, trying to evade his creditors. The novel proceeds to an account of Susan's relationship with Foe and her struggle to retain control over the story and its meaning; it ends with a sequence spoken by an unnamed narrator (possibly standing for Coetzee himself) who revises the story as we know it and dissolves the narration in an act of authorial renunciation." (from D. Attwell "J.M. Coetzee. South Africa and the Politics of Writing," University of California Press)

Age of Iron

The novel depicts the agony of Mrs. Curren, a classically educated white woman. She lives in the Cape Town of the apartheid era, where she is slowly dying of cancer. Against a backdrop of violence by whites and blacks alike, Mrs. Curren remembers her past and her daughter, who left South Africa because of the situation in the country: the book is framed as an extended letter from the mother to her distant offspring. As the story progresses, she constructs a relationship of a different kind with Vercueil, an old black man who happens upon her home.

Coetzee brings together important themes in this book: the drama of a tragic end of life, the separation of mother and daughter, a strange friendship between diametrically opposed people, and the metaphor of decay from within — atop which is painted a picture of social and political tragedy unfolding in an undeveloped country.

Disgrace

The novel tells the story of David Lurie, a professor of Romantic literature at a technical university in Cape Town, South Africa, twice-divorced and unsatisfied with his job. The disgrace comes when he has an affair with one of his students and is dismissed from his teaching position, after which he takes refuge on his daughter's farm in the Eastern Cape. Shortly after becoming comfortable with rural life, he is forced to come to terms with the aftermath of an attack on the farm in which his daughter is raped and he is brutally assaulted.

Elizabeth Costello

In this novel, Elizabeth Costello, an aging Australian writer, travels around the world and gives lectures on topics including the lives of animals and literary censorship. In her youth, Costello wrote The House on Eccles Street, a novel that re-tells James Joyce's Ulysses from the perspective of his wife, Molly Bloom. Costello, becoming weary from old age, confronts her fame, which seems farther and farther removed from who she has become, and struggles with issues of belief, vegetarianism, sexuality, language, and evil.

Slow Man

Slow Man tells the story of Paul Rayment, a man who loses part of a leg after a car accident. He becomes a wallflower, but one attracted to his Croatian nurse. It is obvious that they could never come together, and their interactions become awkward.

It is not until the famed author Elizabeth Costello – the eponymous heroine of Coetzee's 2003 novel Elizabeth Costello – finds her way into Paul's life that he is able to become a stronger and fuller person.

On a deeper and more meaningful level the book is a discourse on the inter-relationship between the literary author and the characters, and with reality.

These texts come from Wikipedia.
Wikipedia:Text of the GNU Free Documentation License

The British Council is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Task 1

Match the names of Coetzee's novels to descriptions of their plots.

Exercise

Download

Discussion

Tags

Comments

So ,what do you think about what i wrote? It is too short to be published or does it contain grammar mistakes?:)I am really curious about your opinion.

                                                If I ruled the world
 
         We all see on tv or in the newspapers various documentaries or articles about different topics,reporting the world problems.But how many of us do really care or are aware of them?
         I think that nowadays ,the majority of the people had seen on tv at least one documentary about war world wide.Innocent people are suffering every day,being mutilated or even killed.More sad is that the children are suffering the most.This is so unfair .They are the future of the world.
        All those children will grow up traumatized,but maybe some of them  will become kind people and they will help other persons that  were victims of the war.
          My personal opinion is that every war in this world is the fault of the people obsessed by money and power.They don't care how much pain they bring in the people's life.They only care about their interests.
         If I  will rule the world,I wouldn't allow all this conflict to happen.I will try to find an appropriate solution to solve them,and I wouldn't let the greed to control  people'sl mind.
          Also,exist so many women beaten by their husbands.In some countries is an usual act for a man to burn a woman's face just because she refuses him.What is more unbelieveble is that those men don't get any punishment and some religious extremists  approve their behaviour.
            If I will rule the world I would change all the laws that make from a woman a slave and the laws that don't punish the criminals in any way.
             I really  believe that just incarcerating somebody isn't enough.All those that are convicted should be assisted by a psychologist who will explain them why their behaviour is wrong,and will help them to become a better person.
             If I will rule the world,I would eradicate the poverty in Africa applying long term solutions .I would use part of the government money for developing new types of cereals which can grow in any environment and I would also provide medical assistance in Africa, building hospitals.
        In a world lead by me,there will be no corruption.

Hi.If I'll write here my opinion related on a topic(something like a story)? will be it published in this section of Stories&Poems?

Hi,
Of course it will, so long as you follow the House Rules.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

where I can find the novel named "waiting for barbarians?

 Hi,
Where do you live in China? There are some English-language bookshops in the big cities where you might be able to order it. 
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team