Waiting for the Barbarians
Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians

by J. M. Coetzee


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Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613834695
Publisher: Perfection Learning Corporation
Publication date: 03/26/2013
Pages: 180
Sales rank: 860,606
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.


Adelaide, Australia

Date of Birth:

February 9, 1940

Place of Birth:

Cape Town, South Africa


B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

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)

Customer Reviews

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Waiting for the Barbarians 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 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!
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 6 days ago
A visionary novel by J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians is challenging with a lucid style and deceptive simplicity. It is an allegory of a land that seems familiar yet cannot be identified with any specificity. The protagonist, known as the Magistrate of the local outpost of the Empire, tells a story of the Barbarians poised on the edge of the Empire waiting. The story suggests conflict, yet there are no battle scenes. The Empire seems as amorphous as the threat from the Barbarians. There are even moments that seem Kafkaesque in their sheer surrealness.The primary details of the story center on the relationship between the Magistrate and a young blind girl, a barbarian who begs for to survive. The Magistrate takes her in and the relationship that develops between them mirrors the growing dissatisfaction of the Magistrate with the Empire. He eventually takes action that will have significant consequences for his life, leading to lessons about freedom, justice, and the meaning of life within the Empire. The climax of the novel is powerful in the sense that principles are powerful in the lives of humans. The allegory is effective and the story is masterful. It is not surprising that Coetzee won the Booker Prize for this novel.
Josh_Hanagarne on LibraryThing 6 days ago
Want to be depressed? Look no further than the entire Coetzee catalog! This book is short, but feels much longer. The reason? The deadening hopelessness of each and every page. There is some beautiful imagery--the swarm of bees--and some flat out gorgeous writing, but each are used to tell a bleak and ultimately numbing tale of woe. No one will ever accuse Cotezee of being a Pollyanna. But has a Nobel Prize winner has ever been called optimistic? This book could be great friends with The Bluest Eye and Blindness, speaking of other relentlessly bleak books by Nobel laureates. But I liked it enough to finish it and just about everything else JM Goodnews has penned.
jentifer on LibraryThing 11 days ago
A very effective allegory of "Empire" and conquer, this novel has some lovely imagery and unforgettable characters - only two of which have proper names.
kenicholls on LibraryThing 13 days ago
prescient book about barbarians / terrorists and the need to have power or dominate. beautifully written.
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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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.
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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.