Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Citizen Coetzee

J M Coetzee is one of my favourite writers. I have recently finished reading two of his novels, Youth, and Disgrace, and have fallen in love with his sparse yet powerful writing style. Though I had read his The Life and Times of Michael K years ago, I can still recall the intensity of the experience of reading that novel and the kind of impact it had on me.

His superb novel, Disgrace ends at a situation where the disgraced protagonist, David, a former professor, is at a loss in a socio-politically changed South Africa, and as you read on the novel, you feel such pain, lonliness and purposelessness in life along with the main characters. But then, as he suggests to his daughter somewhere in the story, why doesn't she migrate to the Netherlands (?); he is ready to pay for all her expenses, and all that. And you think that why doesn't David act on his own advice--why doesn't he migrate to somewhere else if his life has so hopelessly fallen apart in SA?

Well, that's how the story ends. Now, interestingly, news is that the South African writer of Disgrace has shifted his base to Australia. He has become an Australian citizen.

He says in a report: "I did not leave South Africa because I had to," he said. "In fact I didn't so much leave South Africa — a country with which I retain strong emotional ties — as come to Australia."

Coetzee, an honorary research fellow in the English department at the University of Adelaide and the first author to twice win the Booker Prize, first visited Australia in 1991 and fell in love with Adelaide.

"I was attracted by the free and generous spirit of the people, by the beauty of the land itself and — when I first saw Adelaide — by the grace of the city," he said.

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