A professor at a reputable University one day impulsively sleeps with a young girl who’s also his student. The events that follow push him to resign and temporarily leave the town. He goes to visit his daughter in rural South Africa. More unfortunate events befall to both that bring them to question everything– the issue of safety, power play, their stand in the country, shame and disgrace.
Contrary to my thoughts before reading the book, it is hardly about the outcast professor and his student than him and his daughter. In fact the daughter fills at least half the book, because the farm where she lives is where the problem of racism occurs, which I think is the major topic of the book: racial tension in South Africa– the problem between them who are “of this earth” and them the others–ones with Western heritage or the Whites.
As most racism, it usually occurs in more ‘uneducated’ places by ‘uneducated’ people. Not in the city where everybody is supposed to be smart and sophisticated, no. It happens in the corners of the town, in back suburbs, behind bushes and shadows. I should know. I experienced extreme racism for many years of my teenage life — the problem that is unconsciously stuck with you to the bone, the matter of ‘my people’ against ‘your people’ — all too familiar elements that made me queasy.
I can’t remember when I first associated award winner with ‘hard to read’, but Coetzee wrote in straightforward style that is easy to read, though not necessarily easy to digest. I particularly don’t care much about Byron and Teresa, the 18th century British poet and his lover, who are featured often in the book. Coetzee is also fond of symbolism. Stray dogs are used throughout (including the cover), though I sometimes failed to understand the meaning, especially at the very end.
David and his daughter Lucy have many arguments that present most of the opposing ideas in the book: old and new generation, male and female, rural and city, the conflicting races.
“I can’t run my life according to whether or not you like what I do. Not any more. You behave as if everything I do is part of the story of your life. You are the main character, I am a minor character who doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through. Well, contrary to what you think, people are not divided into major and minor. I am not minor. I have a life of my own, just as important to me as yours is to you, and in my life I am the one who makes the decisions.” ~ Lucy, p198
Disgrace is the theme of the book. I think at the end acceptance is the solution.
I would recommend it for people who would like to read thought-provoking book that touches uncomfortable issues. It’s also a pretty short book so it won’t take a lot of your time if you’d like to try Coetzee.
1999, 220 pp
Note: Apparently Coetzee emigrated to Adelaide, Australia in 2002. [source] No wonder he made appearances during previous Writers’ Festival here.
For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.
‘Yes, I am giving him up.’
“That is what whores are for, after all: to put up with the ecstasies of the unlovely.” ~ David Lurie, p44
1999 The Man Booker Prize
2000 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize – Best Book
2003 Nobel Prize for Literature (the author)