Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

disgrace coetzeeDate Read: February 8th 2016

Published: 1999

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 220

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. David’s visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship – and the equally complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

 

Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

This book engrossed me from the first to the last page! I totally understand why J.M. Coetzee won several awards for this novel, including The Man Booker Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature 4 years after the publication of this book AND even has a 2008 film adaptation of this book starring John Malkovich as the main character, Professor David Lurie. I need to find that film and watch it! I doubt it would be as good as the book, but it will definitely be worth the watch.

Professor David Lurie – the protagonist (who is portrayed as a white South African) rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning of this novel. We first encounter him in bed with a prostitute at a brothel he frequents in Cape Town. This prostitute for some reason decides to quite her job, and David starts searching for her, as he believes they share an intimate bond. Once she tells him off after he spotted her with her children walking about in town, he decides to find new sexual adventures elsewhere. Sooner than later, David finds interest in one of his undergraduate students – Melanie.

For some strange, sick reason, David believes Melanie is actually into him and he invites her to his home, makes her feel comfortable with some alcohol and sleeps with her. This happens several times during the semester, even though Melanie is clearly uncomfortable. When David is finally confronted with his inappropriate behavior by the academic board and Melanie’s father, David (who is not really ashamed of this abominable affair) quits his job and travels to the countryside where his daughter, Lucy resides. Lucy isn’t the same girl David knew her to be. She is overweight, slightly depressed and seems to be living in a trance as she resides on a farm, adjacent to Petrus – a black South African, who apparently is helpful to her.

The story takes a serious turn while David stays in the countryside with Lucy. Readers are rudely awakened by the violent, racially tense incidents that occur and the novel suddenly becomes dark and quite frightening. J.M. Coetzee does an incredible job at ceasing readers’ attention and emotions from the beginning of this novel to the end. There are heavy themes of rape, racism, violence, depression, (white) guilt, animal rights issues, new generation versus old generation, abortion, shame, feminism, sexism, satyriasis, infidelity AND disgrace – all in this novel!

When I sat back and accessed how I felt about this book after I completed it, I concluded that there were double meanings and interpretations to the events that occur in the storyline. There are lots of complexities to unravel in this book. Disgrace would make for excellent discussions in book clubs and literature classes. I have so many opinions on David and his daughter Lucy – it was hard not to judge them… but I’ll keep my opinions to myself so I don’t divulge too much of the storyline! This book definitely took a toll on my emotions and actually had me feeling offended and upset at some parts. Please be warned: if rape is a trigger for you, you might not want to read this novel.

Disgrace is excellent literary fiction, nonetheless. This was a great page-turner with intelligent, yet tender prose. I will surely read more Coetzee soon. Disgrace takes place in South Africa, but the myriad of sensitive themes addressed are certainly universal to humanity. I give this 4.5 stars. Please read this!

(I got Disgrace from a used book store [Ghana Book Trust] last summer. I found some other gems there too! Check out Challenge Update (summer); Currently Reading to see them).

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Classics: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe & Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

Hey everyone! Below are mini reviews of two classics written by two, brilliant, African literature pioneer writers. I enjoyed these books over the summer 🙂

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartDate re-Read: July 12th 2015 (previously read in 2007)

Published: January 2010 (originally published in 1958)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 152

 

The Blurb

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What more can I say about this book? Everyone and their grandparents have read this classic. Most readers hated Okonkwo – the main character, for valid reasons. Who would have thought this true-blooded chauvinist would ultimately take his own life? Killing yourself is a cowardly, weak move, no? Despite Okonkwo’s brashness and overt disdain for females and all things ‘womanly’, I understood him, so I appreciated him.

It’s hard not to resent the British colonizers for the damage they caused Africa in the past. The British came with full force, masked in Christianity and denied natives of the African continent control over their own land. Change is never easy, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary? Many harmful indigenous practices which were revered prior colonization have been abolished for example – the killing of twins and thankfully, many other practices that were tagged with superstitious beliefs. Things Fall Apart gives readers a lot to think about: gender inequality, superstition, tradition versus modernity, masculinity versus femininity etc. I’m glad I re-read this during the summer. It was refreshing to reconnect with this masterpiece that Achebe wrote back in 1958. Things Fall Apart will always be a solid 4.5 stars for me.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

MatigariDate Read: August 11th 2015

Published: June 1989 (originally published in 1986)

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 175

The Blurb

Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living… or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands.

Matigari is in search of his family, to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future, but his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races towards its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation.

Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

Matigari is the ultimate African post-colonial, social justice novel. And of course, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o executes the storyline brilliantly with the strength and courage of character,  Matigari ma Njiruungi – a patriot who goes to great lengths to ensure there is justice for the oppressed in a (fictitious) nation. Matigari ensures there is justice for the oppressed with the help of an orphan and a former prostitute and readers follow this team on their brave, almost rebellious journey to peace and justice. Matigari is a satirical novel. Ngūgī wa Thiong’o uses some elements of magical realism and lots of Christian allegory which are very symbolic in this novel.

But I don’t think this book is for everyone. It can be quite dry and may be too ‘political’ for some readers. Matigari was not a fast/easy read for me: I started reading it in May and finished it in August. But if you appreciate African oral literature and post-colonial literary works – read this! It is indeed powerful.

Favorite quotes:

“The true seeker of truth never loses hope. The true seeker of real justice never tires. A farmer does not stop planting seeds just because of the failure of one crop. Success is born of trying and trying again. Truth must seek justice. Justice must seek the truth. When justice triumphs, truth will reign on earth” pg. 84 [one of Matigari’s many meditations].

“Pregnancies are the result of the evil and wild desires. I shall ask the government to ban dreams and desires of that kind for a period of about two years. Fucking among the poor should be stopped by a presidential decree!” (HILARIOUS!) pg. 120 [said a member of parliament – a typical man in power, guilty of squandering government money].

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Matigari from Amazon