Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians

4.7 15
by J. M. Coetzee
     
 

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For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that

Overview

For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that brands him an enemy of the state.

J. M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel is a startling allegory of the war between opressor and opressed. The Magistrate is not simply a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote times; his situation is that of all men living in unbearable complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A real literary event" —Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." —Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

The New York Times
'Waiting for the Barbarians is a distinguished piece of fiction, and what Mr. Coetzee has gained from his strategy of creating an imaginary Empire is clear. But are there perhaps losses too? One possible loss is the bite and pain, the urgency that a specified historical place and time may provide. To create a ''universalized'' Empire is to court the risk - especially among sophisticated readers for whom the credos of modernism have become dull axioms -that a narrative with strong political and social references will be ''elevated'' into sterile ruminations about the human condition....I cannot believe this was Mr. Coetzee's intention or, perhaps more important, that it is warranted by his novel itself. True, the Empire is abstract, timeless, placeless; but through the scrim of Empire, 'Waiting for the Barbarians renders a moment in our politics, a style of our injustice. Precisely this power of historical immediacy gives the novel its thrust, its larger and, if you wish, ''universal'' value. -- Irving Howe
Bernard Levin
I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man….Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka.
The Sunday Times (London)
Charles McGrath
....A power of historical immediacy gives this novel its thrust, its larger and, if you wish, universal value. -- The New York Times Books of the Century

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140061109
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/1982
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
143,356
Product dimensions:
7.54(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.38(d)
Lexile:
930L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A real literary event" —Irving Howe, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)

"I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man.... Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka." —Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

Meet the Author

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Adelaide, Australia
Date of Birth:
February 9, 1940
Place of Birth:
Cape Town, South Africa
Education:
B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

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Waiting for the Barbarians 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Waiting for the Barbarians is a fascinating story about a magistrate working for a dysfunctional and corrupt colonial empire that borders on the outskirts of the modern world.. With deep political undertones Coetzee's tale of man against a corrupting society where rebellion and personal redemption are inevitable is what makes this story so full of enlightenment and secured its place as one of the greatest classic stories of the twentieth century. Not easy to relate to, this story nevertheless succinctly confronts the conflicts of positive and negative traits which we all have to confront to become really human in life . This conflict in our souls which are man's unavoidable dilemmas has perhaps been best exposed Coetzee and Dostoyevsky.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In all my years of reading, never have a came across a book so utterly powerful that I acutally, after turing the last page, dropped it and pondered why I exist in this morbid universe. Highly recommended!
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
Upon picking up this book you are immediately tempted to equate it with South Africa and Apartheid, but it soon becomes clear that Coetzee has larger aspirations for this novel. If you want to read about Apartheid era South Africa read Coetzee's excellent Life and Times of Michael K. Waiting for the Barbarians is about the nature of oppression, in all times and places, in all forms and shapes. The oppressors and oppressed, even the time and place, are kept deliberately vague in order to allow Coetzee to explore this theme without the burden of history being overlaid upon it. The novel opens with the benevolent Magistrate of a small border outpost witnessing the cruelties of his empire as agents from the capital torture and kill the native "barbarians" because of the probably nonexistent threat they pose. He is deeply disturbed, but he does nothing to stop it. As the cruelties grow into atrocities the Magistrate sinks deeper and deeper into guilt and shame. When the empire finally turns on him he finds his voice, too late. But don't think we are meant to see the Magistrate as noble, as the lone voice of justice; his motives are often muddled, his will often broken. And as we read his account we come to realize that he is practicing his own form of oppression. He sees the barbarians as a people in need of civilization, a people in need of protection from themselves, in effect a people lesser than he. In this way Coetzee addresses not just the blunt, easy to see oppression of force, but also the far more insidious oppression of culture. And he leaves us wondering who the real "barbarians" are. At 160 pages this is a short novel, but don't be fooled, Coetzee's prose is so painstakingly precise he can tell a story in 160 pages that would take pretty much anyone else 300 pages to tell.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. Universal message. Timeless. Will mankind ever learn?
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d3vena More than 1 year ago
"Waiting for the Barbarians" by J.M. Coetzee is brilliantly written. Coetzee writes a generic novel, applicable to anyone's life. Coetzee leaves the names of things just that. Neither the magistrate of the town or the Empire have names. I found myself in thinking like the Magistrate at critical points in the novel. In the second half of the novel when he is imprisoned the Magistrate questions his purpose in life. He questions why the Empire had to chase down the barbarians in the first place. He did not want responsibility for all the prisoners that the Colonel brought to his camp from the wilderness.
He is a man searching for his soul in a sea of desolation. His spirit is lost, his power is stripped and he is left with only his conscience. The relationship he forms with his slave haunts him. He is confused by anything meaningful in his life. He has floated through life holding power and commanding sentinels. His curiosity leads him to explore old bones, and through that search he digs up one of the only things worthwhile. The Magistrate tries to save some prisoners. He is in affect trying to save his soul. He cannot bear to have these poor savages trapped in the settlement when could be happy in their forest homes.
Coetzee forces his reader to question the purpose of their life. He pushes the reader to search his conscience and find what it is that is truly worth fighting for. In the end, we are left guessing the force behind life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic on so many levels. Just who are the barbarians that we all await for? This book is real on so many levels throughout history. It's brilliant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is without doubt my favorite Coetsee book. In little over 150 pages he strips bare and lays spread eagle humanity at its worst. He gets right to the heart of the human condition and those things that allow ¿good people¿ to suborn man¿s inhumanity to his brethren. Coetsee draws a clear picture of the reality that when might is right, the weak are always the barbarians. But, of course, barbarity is the prerogative of the strong. This book is Kafka, Dostoevsky, and Camus seasoned with Jorge Luis Borges. Anyone interested in human morality should read this little book ¿ twice if you¿re not too tired.