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J.M. Coetzee
Cape Town 9 Feb. 1940 • South-African novelist, critic, and translator

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John Michael Coetzee (he later changed his middle name to 'Maxwell') was born in 1940 in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of a lawyer and a teacher. Coetzee grew up in an English-speaking household and attended English-language schools, but he also spoke Afrikaans, developed from the Dutch language and spoken by most whites in South Africa. He spent most of his childhood near the town of Worcester, about 70 miles outside of Cape Town.

Upon completing bachelor's degrees in mathematics and literature at the University of Cape Town, Coetzee moved to London to work as a computer programmer, writing poetry and studying literature in his spare time. In 1965 he came to the United States to pursue a doctorate in literature and linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote his dissertation on Samuel Beckett. Coetzee spent several years teaching in the United States before returning to South Africa in 1971. He served as a professor of literature at the University of Cape Town until he retired in 2002. He is a member of the committee on social thought
at the University of Chicago and research fellow at the University of Adelaide, where he now lives with his partner Dorothy Driver.

Coetzee's novels include In the Heart of the Country (1977), Waiting for the Barbarians (1982), Life and Times of Michael K (1983), Disgrace (1999), and Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003). He has also published two memoirs about growing up in South Africa during apartheid, Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997) and Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II(2002). His fiction has won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize (he is the only author to win twice), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. A noted essayist and scholar, Coetzee has also produced translations of works in Afrikaans, Dutch, French, and German.

Samuel Beckett, Written circa 1943, published 1953
Insofar as it has a plot, Watt does for the most part concern a man named Watt, who travels to the manor of Mr Knott and there works for him, engaged in the most mechanical yet convoluted tasks, before leaving and (perhaps) ultimately being institutionalized.

Malone Dies
Samuel Beckett, 1951
Part II of the Trilogy.
The decrepit Malone, bedridden, fills his mind and his remaining time with memories, stories and bitter comment, while waiting for the 'throes'. The novel disintegrates as the protagonist does.

The Trial
Franz Kafka, 1925P
The tale of Joseph K, a respectable functionary in a bank, who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information.

The Castle
Franz Kafka, 1926P
The story of K., the unwanted Land Surveyor who is never admitted to the Castle nor accepted in the village, and yet cannot go home.

Crime and Punishment
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1866
Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, commits a random murder without remorse or regret. But gradually he finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck.

King Lear
William Shakespeare, 1605
Tragedy about a rich, proud, and stubborn man who loses everything.

The Book of Job
Anonymous, ???
The 'Book of Job' has been called the most difficult book of the Bible. The numerous Exegeses of the 'Book of Job' are classic attempts to reconcile the co-existence of evil and God.


After an impulsive affair with his student sours, David Lurie retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding. For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. He and Lucy become victims of a disturbing attack which brings into relief all their faultlines.

The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy, 1886
Michael Henchard is an out-of-work hay-trusser who gets drunk at a local fair and impulsively sells his wife Susan and baby daughter. Eighteen years later Susan and her daughter seek him out, only to discover that he has become the most prominent man in Casterbridge.

Beyond Sleep
Willem Frederik Hermans, 1966
A gripping tale of a man approaching breaking point set beyond the end of the civilised world.

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe, 1987
One night in the Bronx a millionaire, Sherman McCoy, and his mistress have an accident. The next day a young black man is in the hospital in a coma, as McCoy heads for disaster.

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
The tale of a passionate woman in 17th-century Boston who challenges the system of moral authority and places belief in the higher law of her own heart.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth, 2000
Coleman Silk has a secret, one that lies at the very core of who he is, and which he has kept hidden from everyone for fifty years.

The Rights of Desire
André Brink, 2000
Ruben Oliver's life is coming adrift from its moorings. Retired, widower, son's emigrating, others' emigrated. Then young Tessa comes knocking, looking for a place to stay.

The House Gun
Nadine Gordimer, 1997
The orderly life of a white, middle-aged, South-African couple changes for good when their son kills one of his housemates.

Casspirs and Camparis
Etienne van Heerden, 1991
In the final years before Nelson Mandela's release from prison, many South Africans are faced with difficult choices.

A Mouthful of Glass
Henk van Woerden, 1998
A short, tough story of an assassin - the man who killed Hendrick Verwoed, the racist prime minister of South Africa, in 1966.

The Cardinals
Bessie Head, 1962 / 1993
Mouse lacks love and family, but lives for books. A newspaper job opens her eyes to real life. Johnny, a time-worn journalist, offers love and shelter, but at the price of losing her naive view of society. Can she accept that apartheid rules, and form her own loveless history?

In the Heart of the Country
Stifled by the torpor of colonial South Africa and trapped in a web of reciprocal oppression, a lonely sheep farmer seeks comfort in the arms of a black concubine.
Elizabeth Costello
Elizabeth Costello is a distinguished and aging Australian novelist whose life is revealed through an ingenious series of eight formal addresses.
Life and Times of Michael K
In South Africa, whose civil administration is collapsing under the pressure of years of civil strife, an obscure young gardener named Michael K decides to take his mother on a long march away from the guns towards a new life in the abandoned countryside. But everywhere he goes, the war follows him.
Age of Iron
In apartheid-era South Africa, a dying woman is led by a black, homeless man on an odyssey through the townships.
Waiting for the Barbarians
For decades the Magistrate has run the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement, ignoring the impending war between the barbarians and the Empire, whose servant he is. But when the interrogation experts arrive, he is jolted into sympathy with the victims and into a quixotic act of rebellion which lands him in prison, branded as an enemy of the state.
Susan Barton finds herself marooned on an island in the Atlantic with an Englishman named Robinson Cruso and his mute (mutilated) slave, Friday. Rescued after a year of Cruso's company, back in England with Friday in tow, she approaches the author Daniel Foe, offering him the story.
The Master of Petersburg
In 1869, an exiled Russian novelist returns to St Petersburg to collect the effects of his dead stepson, Pavel. But the stepson's incriminating papers have been found by the Tsarist police and the novelist finds himself drawn into an underworld of suspicion, revolution and danger.
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