Thursday, September 1, 2011


Coetzee's Boyhood, his fictional autobiography (or autobiographical work fiction) starts off slowly, but if you remain with it, and its somewhat detached tone, you will be richly rewarded. 

Cotetzee does The Education of Henry Adams trick in this book, telling the story of a boy who is named John Coetzee in the third person.  At first it seems that this move just distances the narrative from the events.  There is a haughty tone to the prose. But then the events begin to gather momentum.  You realize just what is wrong with this family, its culture, its language and future.

Then it kicks in:  Coetzee is not writing so much about his youth, but the death of a way of life for Afrikaner white South Africans.  The youth of the boy in this book is also the old age of a people and their dreams (a loss Coetzee mourns ambivalently).  If some distance is what Coetzee needed to write this material, it is well worth the loss.

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