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Waiting for the Barbarians: A Novel Paperback – April 29, 1982
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"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." —Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)
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Here, Coetzee highlights the true cruelty that humanity can inflict upon other humans in its pursuit of whatever seems to be the right thing as determined by those in power at any particular point in time. It need not make sense, it need not be morally defensible, it only need be possible and performable, and it may be done. In the regime at the time, such was the situation, South Africa, like so many other places has been a war torn place for a very long time.
In making his point, Coetzee puts together one of the finest sentences I have ever seen on paper, when he says this as the protagonist walks away from a senseless torture scene, "Let it at least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian." The poignancy of that statement is deeply moving especially in these times in America. The ability of Coetzee to capture so distinctively and so personally the despair that is illustrated and experienced, and truly suffered by one in the position that his protaganist is in, is the greatness of Coetzee. To be able to transmit that feeling to his readers, as is his style, is his mastery. All sensitive readers should spend the time to consume this mere 157 page book, which gives at least 600 pages of expressiveness. Another fine piece of literature from a modern day master.
During their brief romance, so to speak, the magistrate doesn't have sex with this object of his affection, but instead, he likes to wash her body, and fall asleep next to her (he does occasionally see a prostitute in the town, though). The woman has a job during the day in the kitchen. There is genuine affection between the magistrate and the barbarian, while in the town the soldiers from the empire are interrogating (torturing) native peoples and building fear in the town against the barbarians. The magistrate, however, believes that the barbarians are no threat to the Empire, that they have their own rhythm and lifestyle on the land. As the fervor from the Capital builds against the Barbarians, the magistrate finds himself questioning and challenging his own society, particularly after a trip he takes to find the barbarians. When he returns from the dangerous journey, he faces consequences that cause the reader to question authority, its right to power and its right to brutality.
This novel was one of my favorite Coetzee's, behind "Disgrace" and "Age of Iron," because it has a more cohesive storyline than, say, "Elizabeth Costello" or "In the Heart of the Country.Read more ›
Coetzee writes in a very unique manner. Aside from the colonel (Joll), no one has a name in the book, he just refers to everyone as "the girl" or "the magistrate". As soon as the colonel visits the city with an obsession about an impending barbarian invasion, the entire town becomes paranoid with these barbarians. The barbarians in fact are just simple nomads that live in the adjacent mountains, but the obsession grows so quickly that the magistrate, when he tries to reach out to barbarians and understand who they are, he gets misunderstood as a barbarian helper and so is put in jail.
Some of the best writing is the description of his time in prison and the abuse he underwent. Coetzee plays with metaphors relating to the body and its conditions in ways that leaving interesting impressions and provokes much thought. I am still grappling to get the right message out of the book, but conclude that there are many.
Overall, this is an enjoyable and very short book. It is true literature, so not a very light reading if you are looking for a passtime. I needed to stop a couple of times to reflect on it, and was highly impressed by Coetzee. He definitely deserved the Nobel Prize.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was a great book. I like the fact that it does not have a specific setting because it reflects the colonization of 3rd world nations. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mary
Complex and thought provoking, to put it simply. I had to read this for one of my college classes and it blew me away.Published 5 months ago by Karolina Krason
Coetzee's story is universal in that it is unmoored in both time and place. It's told in the voice of a colonial official, but so few details are provided as to the setting that... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Larry Benjamin
Remarkable tale by Nobel laureate. Ordered because of it's mention in an Unnecessary Woman.Published 5 months ago by Adrien W Helm
Extremely boring. I'm a bit surprised with my own reaction, because this book has just about everything I enjoy in a novel. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Flynt86
On the same plane as "Animal Farm," the story is as prophetic as any in the Old Testament – it even uses the same metaphorical techniques. Read morePublished 9 months ago by David S. Morgan