Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians

Paperback

By (author) J. M. Coetzee

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  • Publisher: Penguin Putnam Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 160 pages
  • Dimensions: 124mm x 196mm x 8mm | 113g
  • Publication date: 31 May 1990
  • Publication City/Country: New York, NY
  • ISBN 10: 014006110X
  • ISBN 13: 9780140061109
  • Edition: New edition
  • Edition statement: 1st New edition
  • Sales rank: 102,603

Product description

For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that brands him an enemy of the state.J. M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel is a startling allegory of the war between opressor and opressed. The Magistrate is not simply a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote times; his situation is that of all men living in unbearable complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency.

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Author information

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa's highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Review quote

"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)

Editorial reviews

Set in a northern border oasis in some unstated time and place, South African novelist Coetzee's novella is pared down to metaphorical essentials. A magistrate (who also serves as narrator) finds his jurisdiction usurped by the arrival of a sunglasses-wearing newcomer: Colonel Jell of the Third Bureau, a torturer sent by the nervous central government to try to wipe out encroachment by the "barbarians" lying in wait beyond the border. And among Joll's victims is a captured barbarian girl: she's tortured, made temporarily blind, her feet broken. But then the girl is taken in by the magistrate-narrator - at first as his ward, then his bedmate, and finally his sexual partner; and thus the girl grows into a symbol, for the magistrate, of all the ambiguities in the sex/power equation, ambiguities which are being played out on a larger and far more brutal scale by Jell and his men. After leaving the outpost and letting the girl go back to her people, the magistrate returns to find himself branded an enemy, subject to prison and torture. And finally, as the defenders under Jell become more and more hysterical at the continual barbarian guerrilla successes, cruelty is followed by flight - with the old, now physically broken magistrate left to await the barbarians' victory. His ultimate advice to the departing torturers: "The crime that is latent in us we must inflict on ourselves, not on others." Coetzee (From the Heart of the Country, 1977) has set up a stringent South Africa allegory here - with enormous potential for menace and dread. Unfortunately, however, his presentation is so bloodless, so dutiful in its intellectualization, that only toward the end do we get a palpable sense of the stark geography in which all this nerve-wracking waiting is being played out. Lucid but uninvolving: a psycho-political thesis worked out too abstractly and predictably to hold most readers. (Kirkus Reviews)