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Youth [Hardcover]

J M Coetzee
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 May 2002
The narrator of Youth, a student in the South Africa of the 1950s, has long been plotting an escape from his native country: from the stifling love of his mother, from a father whose failures haunt him, and from what he is sure is impending revolution. Studying mathematics, reading poetry, saving money, he tries to ensure that when he arrives in the real world, wherever that may be, he will be prepared to experience life to its full intensity, and transform it into art. Arriving at last in London, however, he finds neither poetry nor romance. Instead he succumbs to the monotony of life as a computer programmer, from which random, loveless affairs offer no relief. Devoid of inspiration, he stops writing. An awkward colonial, a constitutional outsider, he begins a dark pilgrimage in which he is continually tested and continually found wanting. Set against the background of the 1960s - Sharpeville, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam - Youth is a remarkable portrait of a consciousness, isolated and adrift, turning in on itself. J. M. Coetzee explores a young man's struggle to find his way in the world with tenderness and a fierce clarity. (2002-02-18)

Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Secker (2 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0436205823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0436205828
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 888,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting For the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Product Description


A remarkable, searing portrait of a young colonial in early 1960s London, his first novel since winning the Booker Prize for the second time with Disgrace.

Book Description

A remarkable, searing portrait of a young colonial in early 1960s London, his first novel since winning the Booker Prize for the second time with Disgrace. (2002-02-18)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Deep and Thoughtful Book 16 Aug 2003
I'm a Bracknell-based African computer programmer who once had aspirations of being a writer. So reading a book about a Bracknell-based African computer programmer who once had aspirations of being a writer was either going to leave me breathless or livid.
Youth is not a book in which very much happens - and that's because it's a book about real life. The real life of a young man finding his feet in an alien country. But the beauty of Youth is not something as mundane as excitement (any book can give you that), it's the truthfulness of the book (I should know: see paragraph 1). It is the most well-realised book I've read in ages, and in its nuances it contains more feeling than library-fuls of other books.
I guess what I'm saying is that you'll either love it - or be bored silly by it. I loved it. Which is fortunate since it seems so much to be the story of my life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 12 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For someone like myself who is interested in writing and in mathematics, I loved this book and didn't want it to end. Coetzee is too cold-hearted to fall in love, too idiosyncratic to make friends and too anal to begin writing so ends up in computers instead. His internal battles rage on. Wonderful stuff. By the way, were the shops really closed on Saturday afternoons in Bracknell in 1963?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first Coetzee 15 Nov 2003
By Philip
Piqued by his laureate status, I decided to sample Coetzee, and picked this book for its slimness and because I had heard such mixed opinion of Disgrace. I think it might be the most beautifully written book I have read, not only for the grace of the prose and the wonder of the phrasing, but also for the gentle tragicomedy of what seems a simple tale. I had an unerring feeling throughout the book that the velvet prose was restraining an iron fisted mind and having now read Disgrace and Master of Petersburg, I think this is true. Youth seems to be Coetzee in more gentle and reflective tone and, whilst I have enjoyed his other darker work, Youth is my favourite to date.
He may not be everyone's cup of tea but I think I am beginning to understand why he was made a Nobel laureate. If you already like Coetzee then I would guess that you will love Youth. If you don't know Coetzee this book is a good place to start to understand a true master of the English language.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Each man is an island 21 April 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Coetzee's second autobiographical novel is a story of flights and also an 'Education sentimentale'.

It is a flight from the oppressiveness of his family and the love of his mother - `the bond with the firstborn' -, from the socio-political situation in South-Africa - `an albatross around his neck' - and from mortgage shackles. In one word, it is a flight to freedom.
He arrives in London, but the city turns him into a beaten dog: no work, no stay. He quickly understands that the struggle for life is still going on, that he will have to find his place in the world and that he has to prove that he belongs to this earth.

Intellectually, he is attracted to Pure Thought (mathematics), but he also wants to become a poet. He makes his first encounters (through reading and radio programs) with world literature, e.g. Joseph Brodsky who teaches him that `poetry is truth'.

Sentimentally, he has to fight against his own depths of coldness, callousness, caddishness, his lack of heat and heart. He falls in love with filmdivas, but his own love (better: sex) life is not that of a `fine' author.

In impeccable prose, J.M. Coetzee painted without any shame a very realistic picture of a `Youth-struggle'.
Not to be missed.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite Coetzee book 14 May 2003
By A Customer
I am surprised by the ambivalent reviews of this book. I have read several of JM Coetzees books and this is my favourite. Coetzee is a very intelligent and penetrating writer - perhaps this is why his writing has been characterised here as detached. In my opinion, this feature is a virtue. Along with his spare, almost poetic style, this is what makes his books so utterly exhilarating.
'Youth' gets to the heart of the confusion facing a young man torn between worldly constraint and artistic ambition. The everyday dilemmas and insecurities he faces occupy his time more and more as he searches for some kind of grander purpose or secret of artistic success. This is a book that will hypnotize those who have ever found themselves questioning their own life-choices. As the protagonist feels his destiny slowly escaping him, we are left, not with feelings of hopelessness, but with a profound and motivating lesson about the futility of neuroticism and inaction. A wonderful book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I found Coetzee's English usage most interesting, with some sentences to relish. But, the paragraphs were less interesting. One major problem for me is that the main character always seemed to be taking, and never giving. In consequence, I found him drab, uninteresting, and unrewarding. There were many excitements and much to savour in the England of the late 1950s/early 1960s and this character and, presumably, this author, just didn't seem able to appreciate any of it.
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By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
"Youth", which appeared in 2002, is both a novel and a fictionalised autobiography. It draws heavily on the author's own experience of young manhood: but it isn't necessary for the reader to know anything about this to appreciate the book as a work of fiction.

At the core of his narrator's sense of self, as a young white growing up in the intensely racist South Africa of the 1950s, is a peculiar conviction: that he will be a literary artist, though nothing in his background and education really destines him for the task, and he has only intermittent, wavering belief in his own abilities. Coetzee captures perfectly the vacillations and listlessness of the awkward stage of life in which a person has to decide who they are and what they will do.

In the short term, this conviction is disabling, unfitting him for everyday life and derailing his efforts to construct a viable mode of existence. He drifts through a succession of academic dead ends, unexciting jobs and dysfunctional relationships, each of which terminates in disappointment and self-disgust. Moving in the early '60s from South Africa to England, he seems as much to be fleeing capture by the mundane as actively seeking the centre of literary activity.

Coetzee is a master of the unpalatable truth, and he is quite merciless here at the expense of his younger self, as refracted through his young protagonist. His bone-dry sense of humour has plenty of material to work on: his young man is priggish, nave, gauche, selfish; and yet in spite of this Coetzee managed to engage my sympathy. There is a sense of truth in the telling of the tale, and there were many moments in which I found myself laughing or wincing in recognition.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts and meditations
Slowly paced, introspective and disconcertingly downbeat, J.M. Coetzee's 'Youth' is a sometimes powerful, but flawed novel. Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2012 by Mr. D Burin
2.0 out of 5 stars Introspective writing about a dull subject
This is the story: upon finishing university in Cape Town, wanting to escape the tensions in South Africa (it's 1960 or thereabouts) the youth of the title moves to London, where... Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2010 by Phil O'Sofa
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but penetrating portrait of Coetzee as a young man
This book by South African writer J. M. Coetzee is not exactly an autobiography, as it recounts a few years of his life, from about the time he was 19 to his mid 20s, during the... Read more
Published on 13 Nov 2008 by Andres C. Salama
2.0 out of 5 stars Joyless
Just a lazy few words to describe this book: Joyless, tedious, depressing, bleak, humorless...climaxing with the statement I wish I hadn't bothered to read it. Read more
Published on 10 Dec 2007 by Riddley
3.0 out of 5 stars A loud ripple
This is not my Top pick when it comes to Coetzee, although I am very happy to have read it. It's apparant total lack of climax makes the small events seem so much bigger and... Read more
Published on 8 Aug 2006 by M. K. Enhorning
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and so true
No question that this book brings out the melancholy in all of us with literary pretensions who have sat typing numbers into computers for years. Read more
Published on 9 Aug 2004 by Teebs
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I had expected
I was thrilled by the beginning of Youth, it was very vivid and indeed fit perfectly a teenagers' life. Read more
Published on 27 May 2004 by sorana
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