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Coetzee, J(ohn) M(ichael)

life novel south writer

(South African, 1940– )

A prolific writer of both fiction and criticism, Coetzee first won the Booker Prize for his allegorical novel, the Life and Times of Michael K (1983). A dispossessed and simple-minded coloured man, Michael K, aimlessly creeps round the devastated political wasteland of 1980s' South Africa. Age of Iron (1990) also focuses on the upheaval of the 1980s, this time through the eyes of the highly articulate and terminally ill Mrs Curran who grapples with her own mortality and the death throes of the apartheid regime. Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) is a deliberately disorientating and disturbing novel which explores the political complexities of life under a totalitarian regime. A quite different novel, The Master of Petersburg (1994) is an ambitious and fictionalized look at the year 1869 in the life of the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky. Coetzee became the first writer to win the Booker Prize twice, with Disgrace (1999) which explores life in post-apartheid South Africa. A professor's affair with his student is discovered to the university, and he refuses to apologize, resigning instead. He goes to live with his daughter on a remote farm where the black native people are increasingly antagonistic to the white settlers; and where his daughter is violently attacked and raped. As well as dealing with issues of race, this deals powerfully with relations between men and women.

Coetzee was Professor of Literature and Language at the University of Cape Town, and has now moved to Australia.

Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Chinua Achebe. See AFRICA  EW/JR

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