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(Scenes from Provincial Life #2)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  7,196 ratings  ·  485 reviews
The second installment of J. M. Coetzee's fictionalized "memoir" explores a young man's struggle to experience life to its full intensity and transform it into art. The narrator of Youth has long been plotting an escape-from the stifling love of his overbearing mother, a father whose failures haunt him, and what he is sure is an impending revolution in his native country o ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 7th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
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Flink Gevoetbald I would advise you to keep a map (digital or not) close at hand. That's how some people in Europe watch the Tour de France or try to figure out how in…moreI would advise you to keep a map (digital or not) close at hand. That's how some people in Europe watch the Tour de France or try to figure out how international politics work exactly :)(less)

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What can I say? This is the tenth novel (or so, I just made a quick calculation in my head) by Coetzee that I have read, and it leaves me puzzled in a way that the others do not, even though they may be less approachable, more brutal and enigmatic. This one is clear-cut, with simple language and a typical coming-of-age plot. It is very easy to read, and in fact, I finished it in an afternoon. But it has left me agonising over its content in a way I did not anticipate at all.

There are
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*edited on 28.04.19

Normal people, when they feel badness flare up within them, drink, swear, commit violence. Badness to them like a fever: they want it out of their system, they want to go back to being normal. But artists have to live with their fever, whatever its nature, good or bad. The fever is what makes them artists; the fever must be kept alive. That is why artists can never be wholly present to the world: one eye has always to be turned inward

Is darkness quintessential for a writer to
Ahmad Sharabiani
Youth (Scenes from Provincial Life #2), J.M. Coetzee
Youth (or Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II) (2002) is a semi-fictionalised autobiographical novel by J. M. Coetzee, recounting his struggles in 1960s London after fleeing the political unrest of Cape Town. The story begins with the narrator living in Mowbray and studying at the University of Cape Town. After graduating in mathematics and English and in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre he moves to London in the hope of finding inspirati
This is very good, and I highly recommend it. It is autobiographical fiction. That one is not always sure what is fact and what is fiction didn’t bother me in the least—what we are delivered all the way through are Coetzee’s views. The details may be off, but they are not the essential. How he reasons and thinks, that is what is important, and it is this that we come to understand.

As the title indicates we observe Coetzee’s youth. We start when he is nineteen and we follow him through his twent
Sidharth Vardhan
This is really a portrait of an artist as a young man (pun intended). The stupid motivational speakers make it sound too easy - when they ask one to chose between passion and money as one's career goal. Money here sounds some kind of luxury which one can live without. But really, money is what is going to pay the bills. And pursuit of arts almost always have a big gestation period before it earns one money. And the artist must struggle in poverty in meantime - may be live as a financially depend ...more
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
The reluctant, inwardly drawn, conscience-stricken 10-year-old from Boyhood returns as a prudish and insecure young man who dreams of being a great artist. As a 19-year-old Mathematics student in a South African university, John is leading an extraordinarily practical life – making cheese with left-over milk and working hard at multiple jobs during vacations – to escape the deterioration of South Africa (like Stephen Dedalus wants to cut all ties from Ireland) and find his way as a poet in Londo ...more
Stephen P(who no longer can participate due to illness)
Ah, to be welcomed back into the eloquent polished sheen of Coetzee’s prose. So quickly I join the young man leaving the smothering mother’s grasp, himself now grasping to evolve into the blossom of poetry. From South Africa to London where culture thrives and he sees himself entering.

What he finds is a wait. He awaits. Waiting is what he does. His performance. A woman will notice him and see all the magic of his creativity locked within his stiff posture and muffled gestures. She will unlock w
From the book cover:
Set against the background of the 1960's - Sharpeville and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam - Youth is a remarkable portrait of a consciousness, isolated and adrift, turning in on itself. J.M Coetzee explores a young man's struggle to find his way in the world with tenderness and a fierce clarity.


When I first started reading this book my first thought was, Dawsons Creek, with aspergers set in the 1960's. To much youthful angst and introverted navel gazing highlighted by

"She writes every week but he does not write every week in return. That would be too much like

"He has a horror of spilling mere emotion on to the page. Once it has begun to spill out he would not know how to stop it. It would be like severing an artery and watching one's lifeblood gush out."

"They might as well get married, he and Astrid, then spend the rest of their lives looking after each other like invalids."

"He is chagrined to see how well the reality principle operates, how,
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction
Reading J.M. Coetzee's work is somewhat exhausting. No matter how you're psyched to think you're in the same current stage in life to master reading a masterpiece, you'll eventually left dumbfounded and coerced to rethink what's come to the life of the character that is hard to articulate. Or maybe their life, even so much different than yours, can be terrifyingly comprehensible and it's unbearable not to weight on their decisions as if they were yours to bear. Writing such wonderful characters ...more
How do bitter and twisted, lonely, emotionally crippled older men start out? Men whose relationships, if any, have always soured early, men whose jobs are all that sustain them, mediocre jobs with colleagues who never become friends. Men whose strict weekend routines stop loneliness from being more than an uneasy feeling which never quite comes to the surface. Never quite acknowledged.

They start out as bitter and twisted Youth. In this novel by Coetzee, we see the establishment of such a being,
Ravi Gangwani
I LOVE Coetzee.
No more words are there to express my feelings for him. :)
"Youth" is a portrait of an artist as a young man - struggling to find his way.
Maybe I will just start with a quote;

"At 18 he might have been a poet. Now he is not a poet, not a writer, not an artist. He is a computer programmer, a 24year old computer programmer in a world where there are (yet) no 30 year old computer programmers. At 31 he is too old to be a programmer: one turns oneself into something else - some kind of businessman - or shoots oneself" Coetzee.

Darn. I have 7 foolscap pages of
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
How to tell the story of a life? Life is: books, art, sex, moving, school and institutions, and the interior life: fear of ignominy, hierarchies of learning (pure math over applied math; scorning the authors that authors you admire disdain), the feeling of belonging or lack thereof.

Is the narrator aware of the limits of "his" 3rd person main character? The narrowness of some of that character's views on life and women and art? Are we meant to take John's analyses at face value? Or is Youth a sel
Nov 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most autobigraphical book i related to on so many levels, however reluctant i am to admit that. Its a rather bleak book with such raw honesty and rhetoric questions. This is my first book by Coetzee, and i absolutely love it, his way of exploring so much striking truth in this short sentences, going straight into the consciousness of the 19 year old in London. I find myself enjoying it and finishing it fast, probably the fastest i have ever finished a book. The pretentiousness of an ...more
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
By page 115 of this slim fictional memoir, Coetzee had convinced me that he's a beautiful writer. He manages to avoid corniness, even though he's describing the inner narrative of an ex-pat wannabe poet (recipe for sappy disaster). There are some ethical musings in here which are quite good and I like the whole construct of an author describing a fictional character's interaction with other authors. It achieves a distance between Coetzee and his pathetic, miserable hero that is compelling. There ...more
Jayden McComiskie
Another stellar read from Coetzee. I started this and next minute I was looking at the free end page...I devoured it. Not much happens, traditionally plot wise. But I couldn't help but see myself in this book, with the characters musings on poetry, the minor tragedies of an artist trying to find his art, in a world heavily reliant on pathetic and mundane rituals, also known as making a living. ...more
Monika Barrera
Oct 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Youth is a half-fictionalised autobiographical novel by J. M. Coetzee, a South African-born writer who left a politically unstable South Africa in 1960 and came to London.
John - the protagonist is a young man with aspirations to become a poet or at least a writer, graduated in mathematics and English before flying to London. He has dreams to lead a life like his favourites poets Ezra Pound, Rimbaud or Eliot but he needs to earn money too pretty fast after arriving in London. First he is offered
Arvind Radhakrishnan
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece! Very few writers have examined their personal life and works with this kind of dauntless honesty. Coetzee's ruminations are so deep and profound. It is undoubtedly a treat for all those who value the life of the mind. ...more
Nurul Nadzirin
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ah, I think I can never dislike J.M. Coetzee's work. There are exceptional depths in his characters that make me feel like I've known them all my life - the magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians, Magda in In the Heart of the Country, the professor in Disgrace. They are all extremely different characters, from extremely different circumstances, locations, ages, and time. But written by Coetzee they seem to speak in voices that you can relate to, no matter how un-relatable they should be. Coetz ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished, 2021, 2013
One sign of a good story is, it stirs your own reflection about yourself. Ever so deeply.

This is a story, effectively written, about a young man with an aspiration to be poet, educated in Mathematics, fleeing his home country of South Africa. He adopted a new home in London, taking errand jobs to survive and established himself by working as a computer programmer, in the 60s where there was no thirty year old programmers. Struggling with the classical immigrant problems, like alienation and lone
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a book about a boy who flees his home country in the hope of finding a wild life as a poet with a never-ending string of fabulous no-strings-attached lovers. This sounds like the introduction to a young adult book, except for two facts: the country the boy flees from is South Africa at the time of the Sharpeville massacre, which means Apartheid was still raving. And the place he flees to is London in the 60s, where he becomes a computer programmer, hardly a glamorous profession.

He is tor
What first struck me about Youth is how extremely unlikeable the narrator is. John is a young white man from South Africa, who relocates to London in the early 1960s, inspired as he is by his favourite authors. He hopes to find culture, art, and overall joie de vivre, but he is completely unable to find any of this because he is an uptight, judgmental, narrow-minded turd.

So why did I even finish this book? Well, because it was an interesting sketch of that time and place - you feel that change i
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This second part of Coetzee's "autobiographical trilogy in novel form" was maddeningly dull in that I can only read so much of someone's adolescent angst without a break. It's true that the narrator here, John, is in his early 20's but having lived through this period myself (without nearly as much meaningless sex as John is getting), what I ended wanting to do was slap him and tell him to shut up and stop whining. This is Knausgaard, boiled down, without any of the cleverness or plot developmen ...more
AJ Payne
2.5 stars.

Well, I won’t be reading the last in this series. It’s hard because my complaints aren’t even with how it was written, but with content.

Again, I enjoyed the style - third person memoir. The writing was very good, as to be expected from Coetzee. I also liked that it ended on a higher note, with the author finding himself a little bit, and settling into something resembling satisfaction, if not happiness. Which was a great change from the rest of the book that just wallowed in self impos
Travis Meyer
Jun 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
Well, just a fabulous book. I absolutely whizzed through it. Read it.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: international
Disgrace was so incredibly written, I read Youth (and Boyhood) to learn more about the author. His brutally critical account of a cold, passionless young man who dreams of becoming a poet is well-written, but the protagonist is intentionally extremely unlikeable. This was not a head I wanted to be in.
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
I wonder if I have ever hated the protagonist of a story as much as I do this "John". He is horrifyingly misogynistic, self-indulgent, and wholly unpleasant - and I didn't get the sense Coetzee was trying to do anything subversive with that. It was the typical self-centred, "feeling sorry for themselves" male voice that we really don't need any more of.

There were moments of clarity I enjoyed. It certainly captures the aimlessness of being young, the way as a young adult you can be lured into thi
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: uk, south-africa
I am all for flawed protagonists, but not perhaps, for insufferable ones. And John, center of this story, is obnoxious. Women are objects, it's their fault they can't see into his inner flame of poetry, his mother likes him too much, blah blah blah pretention. I like to think Coetzee wrote this with self awareness, but it is still a frustrating read. Anyways, he still has a way with words.

The one saving grace are the passages on loneliness in a new city. Most remarkable is counting the days in
The unnamed narrator is a sad confused soul. He is a mathematician who wants to be a poet. He wants to escape the tyranny of apartheid South Africa only to find he is trapped within the tyranny of working as a computer programmer. He says he is unattractive but seems to have many sexual encounters all which lack emotion and passion. He is a failure to he own standards and is trapped within a void of need.
While the narrator is a failure, the author is not. This is a work of an artist.
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Reading 1001: Youth by J.M. Coetzee 1 10 Mar 31, 2019 08:58AM  

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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. 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.

Other books in the series

Scenes from Provincial Life (3 books)
  • Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life
  • Summertime

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