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Waiting for the Barbarians: 11/30/08

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee is one of those books I had to read for college that I read only well enough to take the mid term or final and move on with other assignments. In other words, all these years later, I couldn't remember thing one about the novel. This Thanksgiving weekend I set things to right by re-reading the novel at a leisurely pace without the stress of having to study it. The book has now gone from "unmemorable" to "damn good novel" for me.

The book follows the life and times of a small town magistrate at the edge of an unnamed empire that is trying to expand its borders into "barbarian" territory This outpost at the edge of the hinterland sees first hand the war with barbarians and the ways in which the empire ill treats its prisoners of war.

Much of the book focuses on one prisoner, a young woman who has been crippled and nearly blinded during her "interrogation." The magistrate lives with her for a while but decides in the end that she should be returned to her people. His act of kindness is taken as an act of treason.

As the empire is never named it works well as an allegory for any number of nations. It could be either Coetzee's own homes, South Africa, the place of his birth, or Australia, his current home. To me, it fits easily in any of the South American nations, although I was especially reminded of Brazil. The book also reminded me in tone of George Orwell's 1984.

Waiting for the Barbarians is short but powerful. It's less than 160 pages and can easily be read over a weekend. It's well worth a read, or perhaps a re-read.

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Saturday, March, 28, 2009 at 17:31:47


I have linked to your review here.

Comment #2: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 19:00:14


OK. Thank you for letting me know.

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