Waiting for the Barbarians

Coetzee, J. M.

Book - 2010
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Waiting for the Barbarians
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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 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.

Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 2010, c1980
ISBN: 9780143116929
0143116924
Branch Call Number: FICTION COETZEE 2010
Characteristics: 180 p. ;,20 cm

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Aug 10, 2013
  • stewstealth rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Outstanding book in both the prose and subject matter. Highly recommend and a fairly quick read.

Jul 18, 2012
  • jkrejci rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I agree with Brian's review. This is a deeply disturbing and complex allegory. It is depressing, pessimistic and violent, but never gratuitously so. Coetzee is a master of his craft who is capable of biting social commentary without ever sounding patronizing or superior.

Apr 05, 2012
  • brianreynolds rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Why am I just discovering J.M. Coetzee now? Truly, it makes me wonder. And how can a book published more than thirty years ago that resonates so loudly today have so utterly flown under my radar? Reading Waiting for the Barbarians for the first time at age 66 felt like realizing someone had forgotten to teach me cursive writing in public school. It is a primer on the abuse of power; it is a frightening look through the (sun glassed) eyes of a well-meaning "civilized" society at the disenfranchised, dispossessed, disparaged and misunderstood 'barbarians" who inhabit their periphery. It is an allegory not anchored in any particular time or place, but one unmistakably present in every generation on every continent, recounted in grisly detail in nearly every copy of the daily news. This is bleak. This is irony. This is winter at its darkest and most hopeless moment. At least, I can now forgive whomever forgot to place it on my required reading list decades ago.

Mar 17, 2012
  • macierules rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Simple elegant prose telling a grim fairy tale of an evil empire. The magistrate and Stoll characters will not be forgotten.

Oct 27, 2009

This is the 67th of a series of titles selected by writer Yann Martel to provide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to encourage an appreciation of the arts and literature in particular in the PM, and to also help Harper with his stillness and thoughtfulness. Martel has regularly sent books from a wide range of literary traditions to Harper. Martel has devoted a Web site to the reading list and his kind, considered and often poignant covering letters with each volume. (All of his letters can be read at http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/ ... and obviously they can now be read in printed form!) Martel's thoughtful persistence in this quest, started in April 2007, is both heartwrenching and highly commendable. He has never received a direct acknowledgement from Harper, and only some fairly form-letter responses from Harper's staff. He has also received a response from Industry Minister Tony Clement, but it wasn't directly related to any of Martel's book selections.

J.M. Coetzee often tackles difficult subject matter, and expresses it in thorny and not always pleasant ways. As Martel tellingly remarks about this book, "Hard to read it and not feel indignation at the wickedness of agents of the state who in the name of the law take the law in their own hands."

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