"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's Disgrace
. 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
"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
"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
"A subtly brilliant commentary on the nature and balance of power in his homeland...by a writer at the top of his form." Time
"Disgrace is not a hard or obscure book it is, among other things, compulsively readable but what it may well be is an authentically spiritual document, a lament for the soul of a disgraced century." The New Yorker
At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy's smallholding. David's visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship and the equallity complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.
About the Author
Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.