16 September 2007

Waiting for the Barbarians - J.M. Coetzee

Date: September 16, 2007
Recommendation: The type of book you really "enjoy" if you are an English major.

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A haunting and bleak allegory on the oppression of colonialism. Kafkaesque in its narrative terror, the reader experiences the solitude and plight of the novel's protagonist, the nameless magistrate. As the empirical authority in a regional outpost, the magistrate welcomes Colonel Joll, who has come to the capital to investigate the pending attack of the barbarian horde. As the town waits for the barbarians, the pernicious Joll tortures two captured thieves. The magistrate's humanity is invoked, and he reaches out to the captured barbarians, eventually lusting and loving one of the captured women. Venturing out into the unknown wilderness, the magistrate eventually returns the girl to her people - the only glimpse of the barbarians that Coetzee permits his readers. For such an act of cowardice, the magistrate is beaten, and imprisoned upon his return. In the end, the empire's garrison flees as the outpost is left waiting its fate.

Confirming my recommendation from above, Penguin Books included the novel in its publications of "Great books of the 20th Century":
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • White Noise (novel) by Don DeLillo
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coetzee
I observed that once in every generation, without fail, there is an episode of hysteria about the barbarians.

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