Waiting for the Barbarians: A Novel (Penguin Ink)

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A modern classic, this early novel by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee centers on the crisis of conscience and morality of the Magistrate-a loyal servant of the Empire working in a tiny frontier town, doing his best to ignore an inevitable war with the "barbarians."

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A modern classic, this early novel by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee centers on the crisis of conscience and morality of the Magistrate-a loyal servant of the Empire working in a tiny frontier town, doing his best to ignore an inevitable war with the "barbarians."

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Editorial Reviews

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
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
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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143116929
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/29/2010
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 98,317
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

J.M. Coetzee

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.


John Maxwell Coetzee was born in 1940 in Cape Town, South Africa. He is of both Boer and English descent. His parents sent him to an English school, and he grew up using English as his first language.

At the beginning of the 1960s he moved to England, where he worked initially as a computer programmer. He studied literature in the United States and has gone on to teach at several American universities, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Adelaide.

Coetzee made his debut as a writer of fiction in 1974. His first book, Dusklands was published in South Africa. His international breakthrough came in 1980 with the novel Waiting for the Barbarian. In 1983 he won the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom for Life and Times of Michael K. In 1999, he became the first author to be twice awarded the Booker Prize, this time for his novel, Disgrace. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The Academy cited the astonishing wealth of variety in Coetzee's stories, many of which are set against the backdrop of apartheid.

In addition to his novels, Coetzee has written numerous essays and interviews. His literary criticism has been published in journals and collected into anthologies.

Good To Know

Described by friends as a reclusive and private man, Coetzee did not make the trip to London in 1984 to receive the Booker Prize for Life and Times of Michael K, nor when he again won the prize for Disgrace in 1999.

His 1977 novel, In the Heart of the Country, was filmed as the motion picture Dust in 1985.

Coetzee has also been active as a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.

In 2002, Coetzee emigrated to Australia.

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

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 31, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Upon picking up this book you are immediately tempted to equate

    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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    Posted September 4, 2011

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    Posted February 27, 2013

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    Posted May 16, 2010

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