Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians

Book - 2010
Average Rating:
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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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m
msemos
Jul 26, 2015

the themes of power and justice, oppressor and oppressor are set forth in a novel about a fictional country. while interesting in places it is very difficult to read a number of parts of the book.

l
lukasevansherman
May 10, 2015

"Thus the expeditionary forces against the barbarians prepares for its campaign, ravaging the earth, wasting our patrimony."
A powerful, disturbing, and resonant tale from the South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. Coetzee takes on one of the great themes of the 20th century: empire. Told in the first person by an unnamed magistrate in a colonial town, the book interrogates the myths of empire and imperialism and the way it infects both those involved in spreading it and its victims (the "barbarians" of the title). There are echoes of writers like Conrad, Orwell, and Greene, all of whom explored similar territories, but it may Kafka who is the key influence on Coetzee and his work as the same allegorical power and strangeness as the melancholy Czech. Also see "Disgrace" and "Life and Time of Michael K." "It's the fault of Empire!"

s
stewstealth
Aug 10, 2013

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

j
jkrejci
Jul 18, 2012

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.

b
brianreynolds
Apr 05, 2012

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.

m
macierules
Mar 17, 2012

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

v
vickiz
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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