Waiting for the Barbarians

J.M. Coetzee

I took this book and Disgrace out from the library at the same time, unsure if I would read both. I still didn’t have any of my holds in when I finished, so I started this one immediately afterwards. It was interesting to read the two so close to each other. There are a lot of thematic similarities in the stories, even though they are so different: Disgrace is set in modern times, while this book is set in an archaic era out in the farthest reaches of a vast empire (at least, I picture it as vast). The narrator is also an aging man consumed with thoughts of his deteriorating body and shifting desires. But it is also rooted in questions about power, the way it shifts and the way it is abused.

Coetzee’s writing style is so simple that it’s hard for me to feel overwhelmingly moved by his writing — though I suppose I have been moved by simple writing before, so it can’t just be that. I just didn’t find any evocative descriptive passages or singularly profound moments, but overall his stories are really compelling and often elegiac in a way I tend to appreciate. I think it may be that he says so much without actually saying it that his startling truths manage to feel all together ethereal.

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