Socialist Worker

A serious question

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1671

THE NOVELS of J M Coetzee, who won the prestigious Booker Prize for the second time last week, are well worth reading. Coetzee, a white South African, was an opponent of apartheid. Disgrace, his latest work, tells the story of lecturer David Lurie, who has an affair with one of his students. Accused of harassment, he leaves the university and goes to live with his lesbian daughter.

This is the new South Africa, and they live alongside a black landowner. Then one day three black men attack the Luries' home. Lurie's daughter is raped, and he is set on fire but survives. They are forced to confront their feelings about crime. Through an essentially simple story, Disgrace raises a series of issues about repentance, justice and whether black and white can live together in South Africa. It is powerfully written. But there are problems. Sometimes the focus on individual experiences seems too thin when compared to the huge social issues that are being hinted at.

The future for South Africa depends on much more than whether previously pro-apartheid whites are sorry and ready to atone. Nevertheless, like Coetzee's earlier prizewinning novel, The Life and Times of Michael K, this is a book that discusses real questions in a way that will engage you.

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Sat 6 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1671
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