Lauren Mangold's Reviews > Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
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's review
Oct 01, 2011

really liked it

J.M. Coetzee is an author's author. He has had numerous literary awards and lavish critical praise bestowed upon him, and yet I never hear him mentioned among anyone's favorite writers (perhaps I am swimming with the wrong literary schools?). This is the third book of his I have picked up (after Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello) and though the themes of the three works vary widely, they have this in common: they are gorgeously written, trenchant pieces of prose which have enormous moral complexity. But none of them are easy or necessarily even pleasant to read.
In this novel, Coetzee grapples with historical and moral relativism. Huge, unanswered questions lurk as dangerously about the perimeter of the story as the impending barbaric war. And although the story ends with resolution for neither the questions nor the battle-- which quite put me off after turning the last page-- sitting down to compose this review it occurs to me this novel could not be so great a work if these outcomes were known to the reader.
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