Friday, September 23, 2011

Coetzee Light

Dusklands strikes a minor note in J.M. Coetzee's works.  His first “novel” it is really two long short stories combined into one volume.  The first story “The Vietnam Project” is a clumsy work, trying to make the connection between the violence of the colonizer over the colonized, and violence closer to home, linking this chain of war from the perspective of an American researcher who goes mad.  

The second work is a faux historical document called “The Narrative Life of Jacobus Coetzee” detailing the travels of (what we presume is) a Coetzee ancestor into a “Hottentot” region to hunt elephant in the early eighteenth century.  The trip degenerates into  senseless acts of violence and reprisal raids against the natives.  In this story Coetzee is on firmer ground.  The tale has more clarity and resonance than the first one; he is on firmer ground here writing about his Afrikaner past, even in a fictional form.

Later, Coetzee could tackle a subject like the Vietnam Project, but he was not up to it yet in this volume.  Of course he would return to the colonial venue again, and to much greater effect in later novels.

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