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Age of Iron Paperback – September 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140275657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140275650
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.2 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harsh, unflinching and powerful, Coetzee's ( Waiting for the Barbarians ) new novel is a cry of moral outrage at the legacy that apartheid has created in South Africa. In scenes of stunning ferocity, he depicts the unequal warfare waging between the two races, a conflict in which the balance of power is slowly shifting. An elderly woman's letters to her daughter in America make up the narrative. Near death from rapidly advancing cancer, Cape Town resident Mrs. Curren is a retired university professor and political liberal who has always considered herself a "good person" in deploring the government's obfuscatory and brutal policies, though she has been insulated from the barbarism they produce. When the teenage son of her housekeeper is murdered by the police and his activist friend is also shot by security forces, Mrs. Curren realizes that "now my eyes are open and I can never close them again." The only person to whom she can communicate her anguished feelings of futility and waste is an alcoholic derelict whom she prevails on to be her messenger after her death, by mailing the packet of her letters to her daughter. In them she records the rising tide of militancy among young blacks; brave, defiant and vengeful, they are a generation whose hearts have turned to iron. His metaphors in service to a story that moves with the implacability of a nightmare, Coetzee's own urgent message has never been so cogently delivered.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This is the South African novelist's most direct indictment of apartheid yet. It takes the form of a letter-diary from Mrs. Curren, a former classics professor dying of cancer, to her daughter in America. She details a series of strange events that turn her protected middle-class life upside down. A homeless alcoholic appears at her door, eventually becoming her companion and confessor. Her liberal sentiments and her very humanity are tested as she experiences directly the horrors of apartheid. She comes to recognize South Africa as a country in which the rigidity of both sides has led to barbarism and to acknowledge her complicity in upholding the system. Less allegorical than Coetzee's previous novels, this is still richly metaphoric. A brilliant, chilling look at the spiritual costs of apartheid. Recom mended.
- Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, and Slow Man, among others. He has been awarded many prizes, including the Booker Prize (twice). In 2003, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Customer Reviews

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As with most elements of this layered novel, the expression "age of iron" has multiple meanings.
Ethan Cooper
It is as if her mere outraged presence is enough to subtly influence the white regime to be humane.
Mark A. Furman
This book was decent most of the way, with sort of a been-there-done-that feel to me as a reader.
A customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Furman on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
After finishing Coetzee's Booker-prize winning Disgrace, I found the Age of Iron. This is a moving internal first-person narrative of a cancer victim's final days, filled with graceful and disturbing reflections on a life lived and a death to come. Into the narrative come bursting the untidy eruptions of South Africa in the 1980's--township riots, the anger of blacks finally boiling to the surface, dead children martyred by the state, and homeless alcoholics--driving the tale far beyond a simple exegesis on life and death.
Once again, I discovered a disquieting novel written from within the cramped point of view of a protagonist who knows better but cannot seem to gain the courage or momentum to change how she or he relates to the world. And, once again, I was bowled over by the quiet and simple prose that hurtled the narrative to the end.
Coetzee's protagonists are deeply flawed--the attraction of the novel is to see if they find a state of grace or even understanding by the end. They can see the corruption in the world around them, can dispassionately view their own weaknesses as well. But they lack the clarity, or perhaps the courage, to act on what they see and know. Will they learn to act? That is the mystery that drives us to read with them.
The narrator, an old, dying woman, a former college professor, becomes one of the few white civilians to experience the Township riots. She sees black teenagers she has known since childhood shot and killed--even one who is murdered in her own home. Yet she does nothing except write a long letter to her daughter (it is sometimes so longwinded that you wish she would move on already!). She contemplates self-immolation as a protest, but this goes nowhere.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By presszero@aol.com on January 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
age of iron is a quietly tragic retelling of an elderly woman's final days, superimposed on an account of the deadly social turmoil in south africa in the late 80's. when the central character arrives to her home after learning of her condition, she discovers a homeless man sleeping between her house and that of her neighbors. is the man a symbol, a delivering angel? and if so, why has he come in this form, with his smell of whiskey and urine, his yellowing eyes, his contempt for her charity? in a parallel narrative, her own response to the chaos around her is a fitting commentary on white apathy: after two black children are attacked by police, her first impulse is to arm herself with a pen and paper and write a letter to her newspaper. and when she finds herself in the middle of a veritable battlefield, she can only mutter the words "i want to go home." this is book is coetzee's finest achievement, and may be his most overlooked.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the third book written by Coetzee I have read (his two booker prize winners being the other two). This, like those, is nearly flawless. I have encountered no other living Author ('A' deliberate) so capable of revealing thruths and emotions. His writing is alternately a scourge and a bandage. He lays your bare before him and then sews you up again.
Age of Iron is obviously a book very close to his heart. It is dedicated to three deceased relatives, and was written during the Apartheid Riots in the late 1980's. This novel is required reading for persons of conscience and intellect.
Coetzee is probably the greatest living novelist. Carey, Unsworth, whomever you compare him to, his mastery of language and ideas is overwhelming.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dave Brooks on November 19, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting and non-obvious look at apartheid. This book raises questions such as: what responsibility does one have for the crimes of a government that have benefitted you - even if you find those crimes repulsive and didn't ask for them; what kind of future can a nation have when it's children have been so brutalized that they become brutalizors themselves. I also think, as my title implies, that this book really exposes the way a community can blind itself or be blinded by others, gov't, media, etc., to the carnage and horror taking place all around them. If you can believe that a South African would be blind to the inhumanity trangressing in their country, then it's not so hard to believe how people in less brutal situations can also not understand or believe what goes on in their community.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Joseph L. Soler II on July 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book really takes us inside just how disconcerting life must be, must have been, within the waning years of Apartheid for those whites in South Africa who grew up with this horrendous system yet could not contemplate their lives with out it, even if they were not actively racist themselves. The female lead's, and Coetzee always astounds me with his writing from a female perspective (I wonder if actual females would agree), confusion in dealing with the later years of Apartheid allow us to view in sympathy those whites caught up in the system by circumstance while not ignoring the great tragedy that Apartheid was to the Black majority. It also sheds a light on the perception issues that we face in the United States across the racial divide.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Another reader on June 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As usual, we can trust Coetzee to deliver some brilliant insights on the human condition, most specifically as it related to South Africa during the last years of Apartheid. Here, however, I felt Coetzee's stiff, cold prose style and his inability to create rich and whole characters undermined the storytelling and left me wishing it held together a bit more tightly; as it is the characters feel very flat and the book loses its emotive force because of this. Still, it's definitely worth reading to get a sense of the reality of Apartheid and how a government can keep its own citizenry ignorant.
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