"For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well," begins J. M. Coetzee
. Yet protagonist David Lurie's complacency is short lived, for piece by piece his life begins to crumble around him. David is a middle-aged professor of modern languages, who, under the guise of "the great rationalization," has been relegated to adjunct professor. He now teaches Communications 101.
Like his employer Cape Technical University (formerly Cape Town University College), post-apartheid South Africa has also gone through a process of rationalization. The changes wrought by this shifting of political thought and enforced political correctness (which, as Coetzee illustrates, has not been absorbed by the collective consciousness) form a bleak backdrop for David's struggle to rebuild his life, or to at least make sense of his existence.
A brittle affair with a student in his Romantic poetry class leads to his being fired on sexual harassment charges, and he seeks refuge at his daughter's house in the country hoping to write a libretto on Byron. Far from a pastoral idyll, however, rural South Africa presents David with a harsh and violent reality, forcing him to reassess life as he has lived it. In spare and razor sharp prose, and in just over 200 pages, Coetzee presents us with an almost hopeless scenario and an almost tragic hero. Yet Coetzee's brilliance lies in whispering the possibility of hope and managing to reveal the humanity in his deeply flawed protagonist. It is a remarkable book, winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, which captures the political and the personal in a story that is dark, merciless and yet ultimately life affirming. Georgie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Waiting for the Barbarians
and the Booker-Prize-winning Life & Times of Michael K
, a dazzling new novel his first in five years.
Disgrace set in post-apartheid Cape Town and on a remote farm in the Eastern Cape is deft, lean, quiet, and brutal. A heartbreaking novel about a man and his daughter, Disgrace is a portrait of the new South Africa that is ultimately about grace and love.
At fifty-two Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire but lacking in passion. An affair with one of his students leaves him jobless and friendless. Except for his daughter, Lucy, who works her smallholding with her neighbor, Petrus, an African farmer now on the way to a modest prosperity. David's attempts to relate to Lucy, and to a society with new racial complexities, are disrupted by an afternoon of violence that changes him and his daughter in ways he could never have foreseen. In this wry, visceral, yet strangely tender novel, Coetzee once again tells "truths [that] cut to the bone." The New York Times Book Review
"The kind of territory J.M Coetzee has made his own....By this late point in the century, the journey to a heart of narrative darkness has become a safe literary destination....Disgrace goes beyond this to explore the furthest reaches of what it means to be human: it is at the frontier of world literature." Sunday Telegraph
J.M. Coetzee's distinguished novels feed on exclusion; they are intelligently starved. One always feels with this writer a zeal of omission. What his novels keep out may well be as important as what they keep in. And Coetzee's vision is impressively consistent: his books eschew loosened abundance for impacted allegory. Waiting For The Barbarians
, his finest allegory, set in a nameless Empire with resemblances to turn-ofthe-century South Africa, has an Orwellian power. Even when his novels are set in a recognizable and local South African world, as is the case with Coetzee's new novel, the dry seed of parable can always be felt underfoot, beneath the familiar surfaces of contemporary life.
But this is a harsh exchange. Coetzee's novels eschew society, and the examination of domestic filaments, for the study of political societies... The New Republic (read The New Republic's entire review)
Set in post-apartheid Cape Town, Professor David Laurie attempts to relate to his daughter, Lucy, and to a society with new racial complexities. But that is disrupted by an afternoon of violence that changes him and his daughter in ways he could never have foreseen. Coetzee is the only writer awarded the Booker Prize twice, and this work is a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Awards.
A divorced, middle-aged English professor finds himself increasingly unable to resist affairs with his female students. When discovered by the college authorities he is expected to apologize to save his job, but instead he refuses and resigns, retiring to live with his daughter on her remote farm.
About the Author
J. M. Coetzee's books include Boyhood, Dusklands, In the Heart of the Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, and The Master of Petersburg. Coetzee's many literary awards include the CNA Prize (South Africa's premier literary award), the Booker Prize, the Prix Etranger Femina, the Jerusalem Prize, and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize