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Boyhood (Scenes from Provincial Life #1)

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,808 ratings  ·  121 reviews
Coetzee grew up in a new development north of Cape Town, tormented by guilt and fear. With a father he despised, and a mother he both adored and resented, he led a double life—the brilliant and well-behaved student at school, the princely despot at home, always terrified of losing his mother's love. His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and...more
Paperback, 166 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1997)
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Inside the front cover of Coetzee's Boyhood, in the police line-up of ejaculatory blurbs -- which I tend to find outrageously embarrassing -- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is alleged to have called the book 'a liturgy of wisdom.' (Like me, you probably have a hunch that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the pimply-faced geek in school who never had a date and spent his lunch hour doing geometric proofs with the head of the math department.) Newsday, meanwhile, says it's comprised of 'pithy...more
Everything I read from Coetzee has a profound impact on me. His words are so cutting, direct, affective, sincere, clear and concise. His ability to draw me in, paint a picture and transport me to wherever and whatever he is writing about astounds me. This is an autobiographical work with Coetzee himself as the narrator, referring to himself in the book as "he". I really like this approach because he is telling the reader about his life and the experiences that formed the man that he is today but...more
Lukasz Pruski
I find it amazing that there can be so much content in a 166-page book, and that the result is so spellbinding and perfect. J.M. Coetzee's "Boyhood: scenes from provincial life" is a portrait of the author as a 10-year-old boy growing up in South Africa. I have never read a more insightful analysis of a child's thinking and emerging personality; well, it is hard to find this level of psychological profundity in any writing. At the same time, the novel gives an amazingly rich and deep depiction o...more
Ashley Lowe
An excellent memoir that uses totally unadorned language to tell the story of J.M. Coetzee as a young boy trying to make sense of the world and figure out the meaning of his life. The title and the use of "he," "his mother," "his father," and "his brother," instead of their names, gives this a sparse, universal, almost archetypal feel. Yet at the same time, Coetzee the individual, Coetzee the famous writer, is unmistakable, as the boy describes an almost religious feeling of being called to some...more
My first Coetzee; I take it you're supposed to start with Waiting for the Barbarians or Michael K., but I just pulled this off our shelf (apparently C found it abandoned on the sidewalk a few years back, which is mildly poetic considering how this ends). It's in the form of a childhood memoir, but the nostalgia is not moist-eyed. It's a look back at a period in his early adolescent when his sense of separate selfhood developed, when he emerged to be something more than a target of his mother's a...more
These "scenes from provincial life" far exceeded my expectations. JMC has written well about his youth and various lasting images of his youth. especially the racial diversity of his home that breeds deep racism even in early ages where the Afrikaans speak funny but view all whites of the boy's background as untrusted Jews. There is a piercing discussion of the boy's parents. His mother runs the house and he is thankful for this fact. His father is second-rate at all he does and finds various ve...more
Traté un montón de veces de hacer una reseña de este libro que no sonara demasiado cursi. La verdad es que me encanta leer sobre África, el suelo rojo, los mosquitos, la noche en la veranda, el calor, los hormigueros gigantes de termitas, la amenaza de (animales) salvajes, las relaciones entre blancos y negros, entre nativos y europeos. Debe ser por la cantidad de cuentos y novelitas situadas en las colonias que nos hacían leer en la escuela (que algunas veces pasaban en India, varias en Austral...more
Derek Baldwin
In the Western Cape (as was) the Afrikaners in Coetzee's family would go to extraordinary lengths to talk to one another, and about themselves, in the third person. And so it's no surprise that in this slim memoir the author adopts the same tactic when looking back on his childhood self.

Of course looking back forty or fifty years how can you ever claim to be able to fully reinhabit your past self? Or pretend not to have knowledge which your older self now has but didn't have then... or at least...more
Bishan Samaddar
The most beautiful book on childhood I have come across. A childhood friend recommended this to me—I had already read most of Coetzee—because she thought I'd identify with this particular process of growing up. I was sceptical. But on reading it I was deeply. What about this narrative was appealing in spite of the physical realities being so different from mine? I suppose the feelings it inspires. They are really that of any childhood anyone has ever had. There is no escape from that emotional t...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Boyhood is a short novel on Coetzee's youth, growing up in the Western Cape. Beautifully written, it's very gripping, but it took me a while to grasp the point of the novel.
As with most biographies, there's no real story arc, no real plot, but that's not the point. Coetzee shows how he, as a boy, struggled with the meaning of his being, questioning everything and not understanding anything.
On the last page of the book, Coetzee makes a small revelation on his reasons for writing: "He alone is l...more
This is Coetzee's memoir. It leaves you with little doubt about why Coetzee writes. Very unusual and enjoyable sentence construction throughout -- third person, present tense, always in reference to his 10-year-old self. Nothing is idealized, nothing overly vague. This is a young, sometimes Afrikaner, pretend-Catholic kid that grows up relatively comfortably in a place with a lot of social strife and with parents he resents. It turns him inward, sharply, he probably has no other way out.

Ubik 2.0
L’infanzia di J.M.

Prima parte dell’autobiografia dell’autore premio Nobel J.M.Coetzee, “Infanzia” risente molto della particolarità del contesto etnico e sociale sudafricano nel quale un lettore europeo fatica ad orientarsi.

Inglesi, afrikaans, boeri, meticci, nativi sono gruppi a sé stanti, ognuno con proprie regole, caratteristiche e credo religioso, che evitano per quanto possibile di fondersi e, per un bambino qual è il narratore Coetzee (in terza persona, però) queste laceranti difficoltà di...more
Brett Hetherington
In this book Coetzee has used his own childhood in small-town South Africa to create a work of fiction that appears to be at least partly biographical. This Nobel Prize winner takes us into his character John's pre-teen world and through his teenage years in a very honest depiction of an awkward and self-conscious kid. His family sees themselves as middle-class and with an Anglo identity that includes John's fascination with one of the greatest English contributions to world culture – the game o...more
David Chura
Coetzee takes the experience of "boyhood" and shapes a metaphor for South Africa's struggles, Freud's oedipal conflict, and modernism vs tradition and succeeds wonderfully. All done in stripped down prose yet highly evocative.
One of the best memoirs ever written.
Full stop. Punto y aparte.
Aug 10, 2009 Mazel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: roman
John est un jeune Afrikaner qui vit en Afrique du Sud, au lendemain de la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Élevé tranquillement entre une mère ancienne institutrice et un père avocat reconverti dans la comptabilité, il mène une vie partagée entre l'école primaire, les vacances et le quotidien familial.

Un gosse comme les autres, à cela près qu'il entretient une haine sans faille pour les Afrikaners, lourds et ballots, dans une société où triomphent les hiérarchies, où les castes et les races sont bien d...more
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2011-reads
Third person-present tense? Hmm. I basically read this book in two sittings, and when I picked it up the second time I was momentarily surprised to see the third person "he," and not an "I" voice: I had READ third person but HEARD first. Perhaps this is because other writers so frequently use first person-present tense now, presumably to make the distant past immediate and to craft an intimacy with the reader (and their own past self), but I think it's a weird, feigned way to write about your pa...more
Aug 06, 2011 Ron added it
This is the first volume of the autobiography of the South African novelist and professor, although I notice the "A" word does not actually appear on it and it is written in the third person as if to distance the writer from the protagonist.

It's a wonderfully observed account of the early life of a boy of Afrikaans descent but English sympathies as he grows up in the Western Cape. It shows his love of reading, his own company and his uncle's farm and it gives a detailed child's insight into fam...more
#21/2011 This book is 166pg. It took me a year to finish it. Why? Don't know. I'm a finicky reader at best. Seeing it amidst my stacks of books last night I decided enough's enough and knocked out the last 70pgs.

This, Coetzee's first of three creative memoirs, has all the hallmarks of things I love: an exotic locale, coming-of-age tale, life details of a literary great; however, the oddest thing happened every time I picked up this slim book. I felt weighed down by the writing, a sense of claus...more
Ivan Petrone
Mondadori cataloga a Infancia como una memoria. Este rótulo puede ser apropiado pero tal vez le queda chico. No es sólo un conjunto de recuerdos de un escritor anciano en retrospección; es una novela con un pulso muy particular, que avanza suave y despreocupadamente con simplicidad infantil. Coetzee reconstruye razonamientos, sensaciones y sentimientos de esos años como en un Jurassic Park literario, donde se intenta reflejar el pasado con la mayor fidelidad posible pero no se deja de pertenecer...more
Tengo cierto prejuicio contra las obras en las que el autor habla obviamente de si mismo en tercera persona, quizá por asociarlo a falta de compromiso, falsedad o impostura.
No es el caso de este libro: Coetzee adulto toma a Coetzee niño y lo disecciona con ese estilo limpio y aparentemente poco emotivo. Pero la emoción reside en la fuerza de los hechos y sin que la manera de narrar nos haya prevenido nos golpea con eficacia e intensidad magnificadas por la ausencia de artificios.
El escritor ya...more
Mariano Hortal
"Infancia" es el primer libro de memorias autobiográficas de J. M Coetzee. Esta es la primera de las tres que lo componen. Espero poder apuntar los dos siguientes en próximas fechas. Al grano, se trata de unas memorias ficcionadas como si fueran una novela, y con la particularidad de que el narrador no es él, sino un narrador omnisciente, él mismo sale nombrado como otro protagonista más... y además están narradas en presente, el presente de los años 50 en Sudáfrica. Nos refleja con una gran hum...more
Justin Evans
Talk about not doing yourself any favors; if young John could meet old John and read what he's said about him, he'd probably lash out in his imagination, go home, cry in his over-protective mothers' lap, then lash out at her for smothering him. Not much happens, which makes perfect sense, since as I remember childhood it isn't exactly filled with memorable events at all. Just a generalized mood with the occasional trauma and joy. This book captures that nicely, and might illuminate Coetzee's oth...more
Hania Zdrojewska
Cierpkie spojrzenie na dzieciństwo. Dzięki tej powieści można sobie przypomnieć, że będąc dzieckiem też mieliśmy myśli, postanowienia i poglądy. Każdy z nas jest istotą myślącą od urodzenia, to nie przyszło wraz z dowodem tożsamości czy zdaniem egzaminu na prawo jazdy. Coetzee przypomniał mi, że dzieciństwo to wiele lęków, doświadczeń o wiele ważniejszych niż to, co przeżywamy obecnie, zwłaszcza dlatego, że przez całe nasze długie życie poznajemy prawa rządzące rzeczywistością.
Couldn't hardly put this one down. This was my first Coetzee book after hearing him preview read a passage of an upcoming book for a New York Review of Books podcast. Passages like these kept me digging for more insight into this guy:

"The Catholic boys nag him and make sneering remarks, the Christians persecute him, but the Jews do not judge. The Jews pretend not to notice. The Jews wear shoes too. In a minor way he feels comfortable with the Jews. The Jews are not so bad."

This passage was in re...more
Like boyhood itself, Coetzee's memoir builds slowly and sometimes painfully, erupts in unexpected climaxes and is most easily understood when the whole has been completed. Coetzee's relationship to the ever-isolated and isolating "he" never makes itself clear, and so the book becomes about retrospection and memory without hitting you over the head with self-indulgent musings on subjectivity and the fallibility of recollection. It's no masterpiece of literature--there are moments when the narrato...more
After reading a couple books on Iran, I went to the library the other day determined to find something positive and hopeful. I only made it to the "C's" before I had three semi-depressing books in my hand. This one was one of them. I can't stop reading Coetzee. His themes really drive me (thematically he might be the greatest living author -- aesthetically not even close).

I wouldn't really recommend Boyhood to anyone unless if you are really into Coetzee. He published the work two years before D...more
Daniel Kukwa
This book veers between fascinating & terrifying. Fascinating because the voice of the young boy in question(possibly an autobiography of the author) is so strong, so vivid, and so evocative, that it may very well be the most realistic presentation of a young boy in all modern fiction. However, it’s also terrifying in the depiction of the boy’s hates, loathings, secrets, and opinions, especially towards his mother. Coetzee gives us a character with the perceptiveness of an adult, trapped in...more

Infancia es un libro de lectura ligera aunque no lo hace por eso de literatura superficial, ya que toca temas profundos de una infancia con toques felices, difíciles y desdichados. El protagonista es un niño que sueña como cualquier otro pero no es un ser humano auténtico, continuamente está mintiendo, en casa, en el colegio; vive con fingimientos. Ama a su madre, la adora porque lo sobreprotege y así lo desea él y por eso la aborrece, a su padre no lo quiere pero si desea la vida al lado de la...more
Jun 19, 2010 Sull rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sull by: Library find.
Unputdownable. Coetzee has such a careful, clinical honesty that his best writing is addictive, & this is some of his best. His love-hate struggles with his strong courageous mum, his disdain for his inflexible weak dad, his victimization of his younger brother, the various relatives on both sides of the family, his schools, the wild social stew that was South Africa in the 60's & 70's.

The ending was weak, but I'll forgive him--it's hard to end a masterpiece that walks so close to truth...more
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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He is now an Australian citizen and lives in South Australia.
A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.
More about J.M. Coetzee...
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