Joe's Reviews > Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
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's review
Mar 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: nobel-prize-laureates, 2012
Read in March, 2012

Tense and dreamlike, this fringe colonial administrator's internal monologue plots the decline of empire as a function of Empire's continued endurance along the small, bestial events of an 18th or 19th century fictional border war. Tortures real and imagine conspire to destroy the unnamed narrator's peace, turning him from a tragically unheroic man into a tragic hero, who is unable not only to destroy the evil he faces, but to even get its attention. Instead, he must simply endure it, his best efforts turning the worst results, his accomplishments easily erased by ambitious, corrupt soldiers. This novella follows a disturbing course, and can only be read as an allegory for a particularly male sense of destiny and its inevitable erosion by reality, internal and external. The missing star is due to its purposefully archaic tone, which might accurately portray the paternal attitude towards women the administrator might have, but which nevertheless hinders the story from fully exploring all of its characters and assumptions.

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