Century of Books

My project to read the top 100 English-language books of the twentieth century.

Location: San Francisco, United States

I am an Australian writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Visit my professional site at caitlinfitzsimmons.com, or my travel and food blog at Roaming Tales or my personal blog at The Niltiac Files. I am also on Twitter as @niltiac. See the full list of books or visit me on BookCrossing.

07 December 2005

Waiting for the Barbarians

I have just finished reading Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M.Coetzee, the South African writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. The book was published in 1980 and is set in an outpost settlement of an Empire in no particular time and place but it has resonance for all times and seems particularly poignant in the light of recent history.

The story is about an aging Magistrate who desires nothing more than to live out his days in obscurity but is thrust into the thick of imperial politics when the Empire decides to crack down on the neighbouring Barbarians. His attempts to protect the Barbarians from the barbarity of the Empire lead to him being imprisoned and tortured as an enemy of the state and a brush with madness. The book is ultimately about the struggle, both internal and external, of decency against political expediency and what happens when a regime puts survival over justice.

It's brilliantly done - very complex and subtle and not at all didactic. It's a very short book - at 156 pages in my paperback edition it's really more a novella. Although it's got great intellectual heft, it's not a difficult read.

It's interesting too that Coetzee, who lived through the Apartheid era in South Africa, is now choosing to live out his life in the obscure outpost settlement of Adelaide in South Australia.

This is the second book I have read by Coetzee; the first was Disgrace, which was good but not a patch on this.

This was a BookCrossing copy. Please see here for all journal entries.

26 down, 74 to go...


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