Thursday, September 17, 2009

disgrace: a review

by J.M. Coetzee

Another surprisingly fast read for a Booker winner, though this one was much less charming than Last Orders. Disgrace is all about a post-Apartheid white South African English professor who gets caught with his pants down and has almost no redeeming qualities. I kept thinking something would happen that would make him a sympathetic character, but that's clearly not what Coetzee had in mind.

The writing is subtle, much as some parts of life are, I suppose. For example, you don't know for sure until far into the book about a main character's sexual orientation or the religious heritage of Dr. Dirty and his daughter.

This is also the first book I've read about Africa that portrayed the land itself as dark. Writers since the time of colonisation have ascribed to Africa an inherrent spiritual aspect, but in this case that spirit is clearly a malignant one.

All of that said, I would actually recommend the book. It's a brilliant denunciation of the loss of classics teaching in favour of things "more useful" and a touching portrait of the difficulties and intricacies of father-daughter love as adults.

Oh, and I learned 13 new words (not including those words in any of the regional dialects -- Afrikaans, Kaaps, Xhosa, Sotho) in only 220 pages, which is pretty good learning!


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