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Age of Iron

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  3,897 ratings  ·  303 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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Agnieszka
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Breakdown of interpersonal relationships, values and family. Ruthlessness and exclusion, pervasive cult of strength and youth. We all are living in the age of iron.

This novel is like a cry of despair. Coetzee speaks with the voice of a dying woman, gradually disinherited from her body, home and country, excluded from the title age of iron, from the age of the young and the strong. He writes about disintegration of the body and mind and decline of morality. Stigmatizes abomination of apartheid
...more
Tony
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-african
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
Teresa
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sidharth Vardhan
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Coetzee at his best. Mrs. Curren is a typical Coetzee character - a person at a point in life tht has forced him or her to be introspective and discover that word around them is full of mindless violence and hypocrisies. The result is a Hamlet like paralysis.

Since Mrs. Curren is dying, death gets its bit of focus in her thoughts.

Like with Foe and Disgrace, the guilt of belonging to a race that has been oppressors for generations is present.

But what distinguishes Coetzee from other authors writin
...more
missy jean
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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.
Bob Mustin
Apr 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing

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
Peycho Kanev
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Television. Why do I watch it? The parade of politicians every evening: I have only to see the heavy, blank faces so familiar since childhood to feel gloom and nausea. The bullies in the last row of school desks, raw-boned, lumpish boys, grown up now and promoted to rule the land. They with their fathers and mothers, their aunts and uncles, their brothers and sisters: a locust horde, a plague of black locusts infesting the country, munching without cease, devouring lives. Why, in a spirit of hor ...more
Jani Allan
Aug 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This has been described as a novel about love that exceeds boundaries. It is also a lament on death and dying and the grief a mother feels at her daughter’s decision to leave South Africa until ‘the rulers of the apartheid state are swinging by their necks from the lamp posts.’

The novel starts on the day Mrs Curren is told that she has terminal cancer. The cancer becomes a metaphor for a country that has lost it humanity.

At the outset Mrs Curren is oblivious to the extent of the cancer. When she
...more
Laura
Another great masterpiece written by J.M. Coetzee.

4* Disgrace
4* Waiting for the Barbarians
3* A Ilha
4* The Master of Petersburg
3* Slow Man
3* Elizabeth Costello
3* Foe
4* Age of Iron
TR Dusklands
TR Youth
TR Boyhood
TR Life and Times of Michael K
TR Summertime
TR Siete cuentos morales
TR The Schooldays of Jesus
Cliff Dolph
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Marc
Feb 16, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Neal Adolph
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Haspel
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: south-africa
Age and illness do much to change a classically educated woman’s perspective – on life, and on her South African society – in 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 Curren, and
...more
Acordul Fin
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.
I'm confused about my feeling on this. this. On one hand, I can appre
...more
Lambeam
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Easton Smith
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have been warned that one cannot tell Coetzee what is, or what is not, a novel. Well, warning-be-damned: this is barely a novel.

It's an exploration of philosophical and moral concepts through the lens of a character. A character who stops in the middle of a muddy, bloody, burning village to speak to a man about her feelings on Apartheid. A character who writes a letter to her daughter that is not only two-hundred pages long, but that also include a precise and unsentimental premonition of her
...more
Mary Mojica
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book with a tear inside of my heart. It's cruel and truthful, but beautiful and full of humanity. The connection between two people is not understandable, but Coetzee, the amazing Coetzee, describes it so naturally that one may think it's in fact, comprehensible. It's the essence of love, the fingerprint of sacrifice and honesty. The age of stone arrived in a crucial moment of my life, and has become one of my favourite books ever. Beautiful and imperfect, just as life is.
Jane Meagher
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Great lead charachter, her courage lifted this often depressing story of apartheid and death.
Lukasz Pruski
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carolyn
Jul 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Eric Kirkman
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
A solid story of the ambivalence of South Africa's intellectual elite towards the horrors of apartheid and one dying college professor's struggle to that realization.

The choice of Cullen's letter to her daughter as the primary way to communicate his ideas was a bad one. They were ineffective and dull.

The portions that are good in this book rise to great literature, but were diluted by the long letter monologues which watered down both the message and story.
Donato
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've been thinking recently of what it is about the books that I like that make them the books that I like. Why is it that I not only like them, but that I can stay with them, re-read them even in the same sitting, have them hanging around like a friend, live with them. They create their own space and time, a whole world, but it's not the setting of the book that I want to be in (in this case, 1980s South Africa; in Bernhard's case, some cold mountain side in Austria). It's not the characters (G ...more
Dain Claudiu
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a book that has a hard say about ethical problems such as violence and race even the role of reason.
The novel is about an old classic professor, Mrs Curren. She's dying from cancer and the story describes her inward journey during the Apartheid era in South Africa.
The story presents a picture of social and political tragedy unfolding in a country ravaged by racism and violence, and about the shame of living with it.
A hole country and society was built on the idea that people are not allo
...more
David Rice
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Coetzee is surely one of the coldest writers who ever lived, yet something about his descriptions of life and death draws me back again and again. He's one of the few writers by whom I'd read absolutely anything. This book is probably the closest I'll ever come to being able to imagine what it'd be like to live in South Africa in the 80s, as such massive changes were underway.
Jaco Barnard-Naudé
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is the ur-archetype of so many South African novels that followed in its footsteps in terms of the staging of the domestic / suburban encounter between coloniser and colonised.
Gina
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
this book was soul-crushing. the writing deserves 5 stars, but it feels wrong to give a book that made me so uncomfortably sad a favourites-status.
Moritz
Apr 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
A bit cold and shocking. But i guess those are characteristics of apartheit.
Juanma
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
The following notes were taken from this novel and I do not intend to take credit of any of them

• Television. Why do I watch it? The parade of politicians every evening: I have only to see the heavy, blank faces so familiar since childhood to feel gloom and nausea. The bullies in the last row of school desks, raw-boned, lumpish boys, grown up now and promoted to rule the land.
• Perhaps that is what the afterlife will be like: not a lobby with armchairs and music but a great crowded bus on its w
...more
Henrik Keeler
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: south-african
“Age of Iron” is a truly beautiful and heartbreaking book. It is a lot less experimental when it comes to form than many other Coetzee novels, so I remember being unimpressed the first time I read it (the young and pretentious student that I was). But somehow it never really left me. This is the third time I read it, and it really is a poetic, painful and poignant novel. The main character is an observer, far removed from the political and violent reality that surrounds her. In that sense her po ...more
Curtis Westman
May 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
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
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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.

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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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