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Age of Iron

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  2,132 ratings  ·  148 reviews
In Cape Town, South Africa, an old woman is dying of cancer. A classics professor, Mrs. Curren has been opposed to the lies and brutality of apartheid all her life, but has lived insulated from its true horrors. Now she is suddenly forced to come to terms with the iron-hearted rage that the system has wrought. In an extended letter addressed to her daughter, who has long s ...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1990)
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Iron
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40+ Main Characters
38th out of 213 books — 93 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Teresa
If Coetzee's Disgrace is at least partly a meditation on the title word, this earlier novel seems to be partly a musing on the word stupefy:
Television ... the parade of politicians every evening ... their message stupidly unchanging ... Their feat, after years of etymological meditation on the word, to have raised stupidity to a virtue. To stupefy: to deprive of feeling; to benumb, deaden; to stun with amazement ... Stupid: dulled in the faculties, indifferent, destitute of thought or feeling.
...more
Tony
At the end, when it's time to cross over, what form will the angel take? And will you still see it all clearly?

Mrs. Curren lives alone in South Africa. Her husband left her many years ago and has since died. Her daughter left too, gone to America, promising never to return to the troubled land. So Mrs. Curren is quite alone when she finds out she has cancer and will soon die. That same day, she finds a vagrant outside her house, reeking of urine and decay, sleeping off a drunk under plastic and
...more
Agnieszka

Breakdown of interpersonal relationships , values and family . Ruthlessness and exclusion , cult of strength and youth . We are living in the age of iron .

This novel is a cry of despair . Coetzee speaks with the voice of dying woman , gradually disinherited from the body , home and country , excluded from the title age of iron , from the age of the young and the strong . Writes about disintegration of the body and mind and decline of morality . Stigmatizes abomination of apartheid painting a la
...more
Bob Mustin

An early novel in Coetzee’s list of achievements, Age of Iron, depicts the author’s distaste for apartheid, the revolution against it, and gives prescient hints of what was to come of South Africa after Mandela. Coetzee has always seemed to this reader an idealist, harping eloquently against human imperfections and the flawed institutions created by such faulty people. But he’s always seemed to know this about himself, and he’s made obvious attempts in his fiction to resolve this inner conflict.
...more
Lambeam
The last days of Apartheid combined with the last days of a dying woman makes for a dark dark novel in an era of dark novels. The use of a female narrator by a man always gets my antenae up. But Coetzee had so many things to say for her I found it hard to believe she was written by a he.


For example when Mrs. Curran's maid leaves her for a stretch of time and later returns she reflects:

"When Florence went off at the beginning of the month I asured her I could cope with the housework. But of cours
...more
Natacha Martins
Este é o segundo livro que leio de J. M. Coetzee e é com este pequeno livro que Coetzee confirma que merece um lugar de destaque nas minhas estantes. Em "No Coração Desta Terra", fui surpreendida por uma personagem feminina extraordinária e difícil de esquecer. Neste "A Idade do Ferro", temos novamente uma mulher que me vai acompanhar durante uns tempos. :) Coetzee é bom com as personagens femininas, estou a ver. Aliando a isto histórias muitíssimo bem contadas, a leitura dos seus livros só pode ...more
Carolyn
Jul 09, 2007 Carolyn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in South African history
Shelves: favorites
I read this book for an undergrad class in South African literature after I had taken a traditional South Africa history/politics class and had studied abroad there. I remember thinking that we should be reading literature like this in my history/poli sci classes (or maybe I should have been a literature major).

Age of Iron is set in the late 1980s as apartheid is coming to a (violent) close, and it's framed as a lengthy letter from a woman dying of cancer to her daughter who had fled for America
...more
missy ward-lambert
Is JM Coetzee even capable of writing a single imperfect word? Not as far as I can see. He, more than almost any other writer, makes me want to be a writer, makes me believe in the power of fiction... but he also, more than almost any other writer, makes me double back upon myself in fear because I know I will never have the kind of wisdom and precision that he writes into his books.

I want to read every word he has ever written.
Cliff Dolph
Coetzee has been on my radar for a while. A few years back, I looked over a list of Booker Prize winners and saw that he had won it twice (only one other author has done so, if I remember right). So I figured he would be worth reading.

Then, preparing for the 2012-13 school year, I decided to organize my AP Literature class around stages of life, with fourth quarter being old age and death. I went hunting for titles and came across "Age of Iron." I ended up choosing "Gilead" instead, so I read "A
...more
Curtis Westman
Coetzee's South Africa is a segregated South Africa; a dying country bound to its fate by a crippling sickness. Just as his narrator, Mrs. Curren, is succumbing gradually to cancer, so too is her country succumbing to the cancer of Apartheid.

Mrs. Curren is a self-described 'good person', a white woman angered by the state of the nation where she grew up and raised a family -- she hates the separation of race and the oppression of the black South Africans, to the point where she wishes and prays
...more
Roger DeBlanck
Coetzee’s 1990 novel The Age of Iron is perhaps one of his most gripping and politically-charged works concerning the turmoil of South African history. Elizabeth Curren is the protagonist who narrates the novel, addressed as an extended letter to her estranged daughter living comfortably in America with her husband and family. Widowed and dying of cancer, Ms. Curren’s voice takes on a heart-broken and disillusioned tone as she recounts her memories and experiences of the wasted chance of life fo ...more
Matt
In my somewhat limited experience, Coetzee writes a couple kinds of books, and this is from what is to me his less desirable style: the story comes across as an elaborate mouse trap, with events coming along in kind of mechanical fashion to put the character in some sort of no-hope situation. In this book, that's the case of the older female narrator: confronted with death from bone cancer, she finds her home invaded first by a homeless man and his dog, and then the family of her domestic who ma ...more
Kerfe
An old woman is told that her cancer is terminal. Facing death, she must also face the injustices of her country, South Africa, and her time, and her place in life in that country in that time.

What is a "good life"? How much guilt do we bear for what our ancestors have done, for what others of our race, or religion, or nationality, do to others? Is is guilt by blood, by common language, by accident of birth, by association? Is our family created by blood relation or by those whose lives, whose a
...more
Em
I won't hide it; I'm a fan of J. M. Coetzee's work. He has an amazing way of finding the incredible in the mundane. He can make you care so much about a character who is similar yet different to anyone you've ever met. That's what he achieved here.
Age Of Iron is an old and dying woman's final reach to her daughter from apartheid South Africa to America. She neither travels nor invites her daughter to return; instead she documents her final weeks on the planet. Coetzee is not a gimmicky writer so
...more
Mark
The only reason I didn't give this five stars is because I was put off by Coetzee's pomposity. Regardless of whether he writes in first, second or third person his overweening self-importance is clear. That said, I feel this brilliantly captures the white experience of the late 80's in South Africa.
Lukasz Pruski
I have been torn while reading J.M. Coetzee's "Age of Iron" (it is the ninth book by this author that I have read) - my reactions ranged from extreme awe to slight irritation. The novel contains so many passages of unparalleled wisdom, depth, and beauty, yet it is marred by a few instances of sermonizing preachiness.

Elizabeth Curren, a professor of classics in Cape Town, South Africa, is in the last stage of terminal cancer. She finds a homeless man, Mr. Vercueil, in the alley next to her garage
...more
Marc L
I always seem to be moved by Coetzee from page 1 onwards, because as no other author he knows how to bring to life the fragility of human life, of human institutions and of civilization.
We see the elder Mrs Curren, a former teacher of classic languages (the summum of civilization?) arriving home, on the day she has been told she has terminal cancer; she stumbles upon a shabby homeless man near her house, and at first tries to drive him out, but in a fatalistic mood comes to tolerate him around a
...more
Coby Whitmore
This having been my first excursion into Coetzee, I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised about his ability to make a story that is "about" apartheid be a fuller, more complex story than something that's merely "about" apartheid. He veers only occasionally (by comparison to others I've read) into playfulness, which I suppose is a good thing, given the subject-matter. The rarity of these occurrences encourages the story to keep pace, but still permits some of his (arguably her) personality to ...more
Caitlin Simmons
Coetzee...never fails to pierce my soul in ways that I could never anticipate. Quite possibly the best novel I have ever read by him. A countdown to a seemingly insignificant death...written in such beautiful prose that it can be physically heartbreaking at times. Just beautiful.
Marlet
Age of Iron is not a book for everyone. It tested my reading comprehension, patience, and focus. It is not a "nice" book but a compelling one. It is teeming with metaphors that I sometimes got lost along the way but I always found my way back.
Letitia
Ugh. I suppose it's brilliant, but it was so painful to read. The similes and metaphors were a bit tired, nothing terribly original. The subject matter is really what saved it, if anything did. Not a book I'll ever re-read.
Paul The Uncommon Reader
An allegory of South Africa?

That's what this book seemed like to me. Good writers avoid obvious symbols ("hidden meanings"), and Coetzee is most definitely an excellent, poetic, measured and assured writer. His prose is very exact - every single word seems to have been weighed up carefully before reaching the page - in that sense it has poetic qualities for me.

Perhaps the narrator's cancer is not a symbol of the state of his country of birth in 1990; perhaps he doesn't see Apartheid as the slo

...more
Neal Adolph
This is a wonderful, complex novel. the sort that reminds the reader why the author is so widely, highly regarded. I could not stop reading it, nightmare after nightmare. I could not stop imagining it. And the ending - the anti climatic ending - was so essential.

I would love to have read this in South Africa in the late 80s, as the world was crumbling and power was so rapidly shifting. But as a Canadian who is constantly struggling with my own colonial reality, this was an instructive and terri
...more
Miss Leacock
Another sad book. And a strange story. A homeless man
This book was about a dying woman, but I'm not sure how the boys dying quite fit -- did their deaths make it easier for her to die?
I read this because it was set in South Africa and written by a South African author. What stood out the most to me were things like this:
"Since life in this country is so much like life aboard a sinking ship, one of those old-time liners with a lugubrious, drunken captain and a surly crew and leaking lifeboats...
...more
Leah
Most depressing thing I've read in a while. But beautiful, haunting and unforgettable.
Amanda Patterson
I have nothing to say!
Bookworm1858
I chose this as part of my diversification of FITG; the author is South African and a Nobel prize winner. I picked it because it was short. That was maybe a bad idea because I did not really like it. Perhaps I should have read the summaries of each book before choosing.

I did not really like the main character, who is dying of cancer. She's writing letters to her daughter who fled apartheid South Africa for America. The cancer that is killing her is likened to apartheid killing South Africa. Ther
...more
Paul Haspel
Age and illness can do much to change a person's perspective -- on life, and on one's society. Such, it would seem, is a major theme of J.M. Coetzee's 1990 novel Age of Iron. Published toward the end of the apartheid era, this novel by a South African Nobel laureate achieves part of its power by juxtaposing the political turmoil of 1980's South Africa with the personal crisis of an interesting and engaging character.

We never learn the protagonist's full name. We know only that her last name is C
...more
MG
Post-war Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann writes in her poem “Always Among Words”:

Between a word and a thing
you only encounter yourself,
lying between each
as if next to someone ill,
never being able to get to either,
tasting a sound and a body,
and relishing both

In many ways, the female narrator in J. M. Coetzee’s novel Age of Iron, an aging retired classics professor dying of breast cancer, expresses this problem of words and meaning, of speech and understanding. As she struggles throughout the nove
...more
Spanakos
Mrs. Curren is an older woman who has cancer (she claims from suffering the grief and shame of living in South Africa). The Age of Iron is a sort of letter to a daughter who left for America, a daughter who does not show enough concern for her mother and who has vowed not to come back, though her mother needs her. Not being loved by she who ought love her, she takes in those who do not want to be loved or are unlovable (but still need love). The novel begins with Mr. Vercueil, a bum, and his do ...more
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4128
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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“You told me," I said, "that I should turn this house into a boardinghouse for students. Well, there are better things I could do with it. I could turn it into a haven for beggars. I could run a soup kitchen and a dormitory. But I don't. Why not? Because the spirit of charity has perished in this country. Because those who accept charity despise it, while those who give give with a despairing heart. What is the point of charity when it does not go from heart to heart? What do you think charity is? Soup? Money? Charity: from the Latin word for the heart. It is as hard to receive as to give. it takes as much effort. I wish you would learn that. I wish you would learn something instead of just lying around."

A lie: charity, caritas, has nothing to do with the heart. But what does it matter if my sermons rest on false etymologies? He barely listens when i speak to him. Perhaps, despite those keen bird-eyes, he is more befuddled with drink than I know. Or perhaps, finally, he does not care. Care: the true root of charity. I look for him to care, and he does not. Because he is beyond caring. Beyond caring and beyond care”
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“How easy it is to love a child, how hard to love what a child turns into!” 1 likes
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