James's Reviews > Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
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's review
Sep 23, 2009

it was amazing
Read from April 28 to May 07, 2011

My friend Pam's mother recommended this to me when I was in high school (maybe the first year of college) because she knew I was nutty for things Roman. This story of a Magistrate on the fringes of a nameless Empire is like a distillation of all the abduction/culture clash narratives I've been reading compulsively for the last couple of years. Until I finally read this parable of the police apparatus in apartheid-era South Africa, I don't think I quite made the obvious connection that my Roman legion obsession and my Comancheria obsession are in many ways one and the same. I'm fascinated by border regions and the fraught, inevitably tragic interactions of imperial and aboriginal cultures.
Surprisingly, I didn't find this as objectionably preachy as some do. I thought the prose was powerful and the narrative viscerally compelling in way that I didn't expect from a piece of writing that is so baldly a Novel of Ideas.

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