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Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life Hardcover – September 1, 1997

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Until writing this book, the author of Waiting for the Barbarians and other acclaimed novels has remained determinedly private about the personal experiences that sparked his writing. In Boyhood, describing his youth in the third person, J. M. Coetzee limns the halting struggle toward maturity of a sensitive, bookish boy contemptuous of his weak father who yearns--and fears--to loosen a powerful attachment to his mother. He evokes the narrowness and cruelty of South African society in the years following World War II with the same austere yet passionate prose that distinguishes his fiction.

From Library Journal

In this slim, interesting volume, Coetzee, a South African writer distinguished both as a novelist (Master of St. Petersburg, LJ 9/1/94) and an essayist (Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship, LJ 3/15/96), reflects about who he is and why he writes as he does. Using third-person narration, these "scenes" read more like a novella than a true autobiography. Coetzee develops his character, a young boy on the verge of adolescence, through a richly detailed interior monolog. Trying to make sense of his place in his family, his parents' unhappy marriage, his conflicting needs for nurturance and independence from his mother, and his complicated feelings about the racially segregated society in which he lives, Coetzee struggles with basic questions of identity and purpose. The honest intensity he uses to examine his thoughts and actions leads to a foundation of self-understanding and confidence from which the writer was formed. Well recommended for writing programs and collections in general and multicultural literature.?Denise S. Sticha, Seton Hill Coll. Lib., Greensburg, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (September 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670872202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670872206
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,336,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lindsay van Niekerk on June 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Having grown up in Cape Town in the 1960's at a time before apartheid was rigorously enforced, JM Coetzee's account of his boyhood, while on the surface austere and aparently joyless, was pure pleasure for me to read. I revelled in the absolute accuracy of his descriptions and the ruthless, heartless honesty of a child who must function in a world that is often alien and confusing. It brought back numerous incidents of my own childhood - the stuff that nowadays is unacceptable to disclose. Along with Tobias Wolf's This Boys Life and Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Boyhood is a wonderfully honest record of childhood.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
Not quite a memoir, not quite fiction, Boyhood is elegant and powerful in the way of J.M. Coetzee's novels, only more so. A white boy growing up in post-WW2 South Africa may not appear an awfully exciting proposition. But this is not quite a book on South Africa, either. Its images will disturb you, lead you astray: at times Boyhood reads like a darkly intriguing fairy-tale. The detached third-person narrative has surprising effects: the story becomes more moving, the thinking more probing. Perhaps the truly African ingredient here is the passion beneath the simple sentences on common enough childhood experiences. A rare book that will tug at your heart, despite the author's reputation for "austerity" and "intellectually forbidding" writing.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Neis on December 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Here we finally have the privilige of reading a little about Coetzee's past and some of the experiences that have shaped him into the author he is today. As a young boy in Cape Town, he is an exemplary student scoring at the top of his class for most everything except for English (surprisingly enough). On the homefront, however, he is a completely different boy. His father is an uninvolved father to say the least. His mother tries to make up for his father by being a wonderful support and help. Too often, though, she is choking with her affection and Coetzee vacillates between intense love and dislike for her. He also appears to be a fearful and dramatic child. He is afraid someone will find out he is not a "real" Catholic, that he'll be terribly embarassed in front of all his friends and not know what to do, that the double life he leads at home and at school will be detected, etc., etc. He is bound by these fears in that instead of believing that if any one of these things actually did happen, life would certainly go on as it did before, he feels as if he would surely die. Granted, he probably means this in the figurative sense, yet it reveals extreme dramatical tendencies for a boy his age. This inclination may have been the root to the imagination that has matured into the creative and intuitive authorship Coetzee has come to be known for today. A little slow-going in the beginning, Boyhood picks up nicely after 100 pages and finishes off just as well.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. F Malysiak on September 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Touching, illuminative, and compulsively readable, the first volume of South African writer J.M. Coetzee's "autobiography" is a wonderful introduction to the writer if you aren't familiar with him (as I wasn't). His prose style is spare but descriptive, and conveys South Africa in the late '40s and early '50s as seen through the eyes of a child. Not big on "plot," but based more upon observation, Boyhood is a quiet triumph.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I read "Boyhood" immediately after reading "Angela's Ashes." The similarities are startling: children subjected to the superstition and reticence of adults, the misinformation passed off as wisdom by other children, the demands of a culture that come across as inexplicable imperatives, the power as well as the ineffectiveness of adults, the complicated relationship between sons and mothers.
The boy, John, is bright enough to see for himself the harshness of the culture, the indifference of the adults around him to the beauty of children, the arbitrariness and the hypocrisy of adults. What he doesn't see is that although he considers himself an outsider, he has internalized some of these same characteristics himself at an early age.
I found the book moving and disturbing. It evoked many memories of my own childhood -- the confusion, the necessary lies, the feeling of being different and not acceptable to other children, the expectations of caste, the strangeness of adult behavior. It also helped me recall the joy of learning, of physical activity, of creation, of playing with language. Coetzee is able to create literature out of the confusion of his experience. One hopes that in the process he has managed to avoid the brutality that he observed in the children he grew up with.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Coetzee's real achievement here is to stick so close to a boy's consciousness that it hurts: the wisdom coupled with the lack of context for it, the physicality of feeling, the impossibility of articulation. Eschewing plot and character for an anecdotal narrative, Coetzee captures a boy's sense of reality, a reality that can't be easily transformed into narrative. A work of tremendous integrity and pain.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Nicolette Wong on April 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
A fairly intriguing portrayal of one's boyhood - though in a subdued manner. Hard, clean, unsentimental narration with great psychological insights - just what you'd expect from a good writer as Coetzee. The portrayl of the mother-son relationship is pretty deep, of his complicated feelings towards her: a mixture of reliance and contempt, of love and fear, with an undertone of sympathy and admiration from the grown up narrator. Scenes of Coetzee among others - classmates, relatives, etc. are discontinuous, fragmented memories, depicting the formation of self. One has to understand some of these in relation to the African society at that time though, so a little background information will help.
I wouldnt think of this book as a classic, but it does have one of the most profound moments in contemporary memoirs. There's this moment when Coetzee recalls his first childhood memory: of him sitting next to his mother on the bus, and him letting something go in the wind. I wont go into details - I'd only say that moment is everything: memories, love, understanding; the beginning of self-awarenes, of one's relation to things, to the outside world; of the sadness and happiness deep inside that one cannot describe.
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