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In a novel set in post-apartheid South Africa, a fifty-two-year-old college professor who has lost his job for sleeping with a student tries to relate to his daughter, Lucy, who works with an ambitious African farmer. *Author: Coetzee, J. M. *Series Title: Penguin Essential Editions *Publication Date: 2005/09/06 *Number of Pages: 220 *Binding Type: Paperback *Language: English *Depth: 0.75 *Width: 5.25 *Height: 8.25
J. (John) M. (Maxwell) Coetzee came from a sheep-farming family, but his father was also a lawyer and his mother a teacher. Coetzee studied both mathematics and English at the University of Cape Town, and after graduation took a job as a computer programmer. He came to the U.S. at the age of 25 to attend the University of Texas, where he received a Ph.D. in linguistics; he then taught at SUNY Buffalo for three years in the 1960s. He moved back to Capetown in 1971 and began to write fiction that reflected South Africa's political situation without writing about it explicitly. His fourth book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K., won the Booker Prize in 1983, as did DISGRACE, his twelfth, in 1999. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded--to his complete shock, he said in interviews--the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel committee, which called the choice an "easy" one, called Coetzee "a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of Western civilization." A reclusive and very private man, Coetzee has been married and divorced; he has a daughter, and his only son was killed in an accident at the age of 23. Author Rian Malan describes Coetzee as: "A man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once." Coetzee has spent his life quietly, teaching at universities (often in the U.S.) and producing a steady stream of critically acclaimed literature. He has, however, written an autobiography--BOYHOOD: SCENES FROM PROVINCIAL LIFE--in which he recounts his gradually dawning distaste for the imperialism and racism that, in South Africa, culminated in apartheid. In 2002, he became a citizen of Australia.
"[A] sober, searing and even cynical little book....DISGRACE is Coetzee's first book to deal explicitly with post-apartheid South Africa, and the picture it paints is a cheerless one that will comfort no one, no matter what race, nationality or viewpoint....There is something fundamentally cryptic and unsummarizable about DISGRACE, but I read it as an almost metaphysical journey from this Romantic variety of love to the harsher, leaner strain David eventually learns from life on and around Lucy's farm.
"[A] novel that not only works its spell but makes it impossible for us to lay it down once we've finished reading it--that makes demands upon us not by virtue of a self-conscious 'message' but by virtue of a narrative momentum that is itself expressive of moral urgency. Coetzee is the most cerebral and, with the exception of Breyten Breytenbach, the least given to sentimentality of the talented novelist to have come out of South Africa. He writes with a dark, compacted intelligence...."
"Even though it presents an almost unrelieved series of grim moments, DISGRACE isn't claustrophobic or depressing....Its grammar allows for the sublime exhilaration of accident and surprise, and so the fate of its characters...seems not determined but improvised. Improvised in the way that our own lives are....[An] extraordinary novel..."
"His latest novel, DISGRACE..., is perhaps Coetzee's least allegorical and most realistic novel to date, but there remains in it a strong undercurrent of didacticism. The book has an odd kink in its narrative structure that is baffling at first--what does the first quarter of the story have to do with what follows?--and that is explicable finally only thematically....This is incendiary and, even to a liberal reader, infuriating stuff, and it's meant to be. The problem is that, from this point on, the book reads less like a novel and more like a very elegant, very complicated moral dilemma concocted for a graduate seminar in ethics."
From the Publisher
In South Africa after apartheid, a middle-aged professor of Romantic poetry sees his career crumble as the world turns more to technology than to literature. After a series of ever more degrading misadventures, including a charge of sexual harassment, he ends up on his daughter's farm. There, after further disgraces--his daughter is raped and he is attacked and disfigured--he is able to reconcile himself to his stunted life by caring for animals and, finally, feeling a kind of kinship with them. DISGRACE won the Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.
For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.