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Reviews of Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)

Review by SlowRain (2006-01-14)
This is the first book that I have read by J.M Coetzee. I only picked it up because I wanted to see what a Nobel Prize winner writes like. The story is about a magistrate in one of the farthest border outposts of the Empire who disagrees with the treatment of the Barbarian outlanders by a newly arrived interrogator. He is falsely accused as a traitor and is punished for his stance.

As I was reading, I found there were parts that I liked and parts that I didn't like, parts that were well written and parts that were a bit hackish. That just shows the unevenness of the writing. It's obvious that the second half of the book was what he wanted to write about, and the first half was just there to set things up. Consequently, the second half was better than the hastily constructed, and often glossed over, first half. The dialogue was almost non-existent, and what little there was lacked verisimilitude. We hardly got to know the motives of the magistrate's original defiance, so the consequences were a little difficult to appreciate.

That's not to say the book was without merit. He was trying to say something about justice, abuse of power, and oppression. The story is compelling, but sadly lacked the great writing that was needed to pull it off well. I'd only recommend this book to those who are very patient.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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