Monday, March 3, 2014

DisgraceDisgrace by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

J.M. Coetzee's "Disgrace" is the first so-called "serious" book I have read in quite a long time (although some of the mysteries are serious literature in their own right). It is a stunningly well-written book, beautiful yet very painful to read - not because of scenes of violence or abuse, but because it is unrelenting in showing truth about people and their wretched lives.

David Lurie, a writer and a communications professor at the Cape Technical University, has an affair with a young woman, one of his students, and is forced to leave his job in disgrace. He moves to his daughter's smallholding in Eastern Cape and tries to adapt to rural life, helping with farming chores and with euthanizing animals in a rescue center. Soon, David and his daughter are subject to a violent act, rooted in racial conflict in the post-apartheid South Africa. This brief and simple synopsis of the beginning of the plot is quite misleading; so many issues are touched in this short book that a literary critic could write an essay based on every single page of the novel. An attempt of mine to review the depth and complexity of this book would be ridiculous - it would be akin to a grade-school student discussing a unified field theory.

The novel is rich in unforgettable scenes. The university inquiry into David's affair is superbly portrayed, and the animal euthanasia scenes are gut-wrenching. One could fill quite a collection of quotes with acute observations like "nothing so distasteful to a child as the workings of a parent's body" or "the proper business of the old: preparing to die". Mr. Coetzee is a virtuoso writer, and I wish I did not have the mystery-novel-related habit of fast reading, so that I could savor the writing and the language.

This extraordinary novel offers no message. There is no closure, no redemption. There is life and its continuity of hope and suffering, of death and birth.

Five stars.

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