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Waiting for the Barbarians: A Novel Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st New edition edition (April 29, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014006110X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140061109
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A real literary event" —Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"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)

From the Inside Flap

For decades the Magistrate has run the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement, ignoring the impending war between the barbarians and the Empire, whose servant he is. But when the interrogation experts arrive, he is jolted into sympathy with the victims and into a quixotic act of rebellion which lands him in prison, branded as an enemy of the state. Waiting for the Barbarians is an allegory of oppressor and oppressed. Not just a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote times, the Magistrate is an analogue of all men living in complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback 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

Once more Coetzee demonstrates his art of identifying with the main character of the book.
aleksandra mauri
It shows how brutal and absurd the imperial forces can be, like all colonial forces, and you will have your lot of torturing, hasty killing, mass graves and so on.
Both books manage to capture you by the story (you want to know what will happen next) while conveying a message that is much deeper.
Peter De Clercq

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 97 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
From previous reviews on this page I'm convinced many readers did not read the same novel I did. As a South African I might have had priviledged access to a state of mind, but this novel soars above even such limitations. It is a masterpiece. It has haunted me with its power and subtlety for years. I first read it as a student, and have re-visited it twice since. Few books have affected me in quite the same way. Sometimes I open a chapter just to be inspired by the simplicity and elegance of the prose. Not a word wasted. To peel away the layers of meaning - civilization, barbarians, cruelty, love, impotence - seems unnecessary. I've always read it as a poem, thrilling at the powerful undertow of meaning.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Stacey M Jones on July 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS by J.M. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, is a novel about a city magistrate in a frontier village of a nameless empire. The narrator, whose name we do not learn, becomes involved with a "barbarian" woman after a visiting soldier captures some tribespeople and brings them back to the camp for "interrogation." The woman is crippled (specifically, she is hobbled as well as blinded), and the magistrate begins a strange relationship with her.

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.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Denis Benchimol Minev on March 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Coetzee is a master of putting very complex stories into simple packagings. This book is very deep, yet the story is simple: a magistrate of a wild outpost of an empire leads an easy life in peace until a colonel in the army comes by, which set off a number of events that ultimately put the magistrate against the empire.

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.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on September 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
In his book "Waiting For The Barbarians" Coetzee gives us another timeless window into a soul. Here Coetzee depicts the frivolous and capricious nature of the continuing war machine in the backdrop of 1970's South Africa. The book, in its nature was very reminiscent of George Orwell, in such tales as "Shooting An Elephant" where the life of a civil servant and the attrocities he must perform and witness shape the personality and thought patterns of the man.
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.
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