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on 22 May 2000
Of the world-renowned South African writers, JM Coetzee is best known for his laconic turn of phrase and spare prose. It is this distinctive style which sets his novels apart from the prose of authors such as Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer, who tend to lean more towards an accentuation of the florid and the richly descriptive. Coetzee's work is also starkly allegorical and brutal. He is known for scratching away the surface of the countryside - the more barren the better - to scratch away simultaneously at the human psyche. In the Heart of the Country simultaneously cements his oeuvre and departs from what we are used to. His chief protagonist, the repressed yet stoical Magda, appears on every page. It is the narrative, first-person stream of consciousness told in a form reflecting diary entries but in truth spasms of emotion spat out by her mind at the world, which makes the book stand out. The narrative, of what there is to speak of, suggests a journey which is never made entirely clear. The point seems more to be in the methodology of the power of the words themselves rather than the story they eventually bring across. Each page tightens its grip on the reader. As the heat of the Karoo builds up, more secrets are revealed, and we are swept along with Magda's plight irrevocably. Coetzee has written a commanding, gripping novel of the highest order. It is also an implosive novel, as, similar to his other work, it offers no solutions, only resolutions. The heart of the country, as Coetzee asserts, is the hardest, harshest place to find. Essential reading.
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on 9 February 2006
Magda is a lonely and embittered spinster who lives on a sheep farm in the heart of South Africa. Her mother died in childbirth, the cause of which Magda attributes to her father's "relentless sexual demands". Her bitterness comes from the fact that she feels that she has been an absence all her life to her father. They have always fronted each other in silence and so Magda became an unhappy peasant, "a miserable black virgin, "the mad hag" she is destined to be, having grown up with the servants' children.
Deprived of human intercourse, Magda realises that she overvalues the imagination. That is why when her father brings home a new bride, she fantacises of killing them both with an axe. The lonely farm is the place where she is "devoured by boredom", engulfed in the "monologue of the self" like a maze of words out of which she can't escape and she feels doomed to expire there "in the heart of the country", "in the middle of nowhere", a place she considers "was never intended that people should live here". Magda's father's sexual relationship with Hendrik's wife, the black servant, only adds to her dismay. It thus doesn't come as a surprise, given Magda's psychological disposition, that she often dreams of burning everything down and that she is actually about to murder the one person she considers responsible for her despair. After that, what is left for her but an inexorable descent into madness?
As André Brink stated about this novel: "It says something about loneliness, about craving for love, about the relation between master and slave and between white and black, and about a man's earthly anguish and longing for salvation - in a way you do not easily escape from once it has gripped you".
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The main character in this naturalistic novel is a young woman, despised by her father, who never forgave his wife for failing to bear him a son: `Wooed when we were little by our masterful fathers, we are bitter vestals, spoiled for life. The childhood rape'.

While her father is a pure example of `the psychology of masters', she symbolizes `the heart of the country', `this bare land where people live naked beneath each other's hawkeyes, but live so under protest. Our resentment of each other, though buried in our breasts, sometimes rises to choke us.'
The hearth of the country is `a forsaken land full of melancholic spinsters lost to history.'
The young woman dreams of redemption by marriage to another lost soul, `though it would not astonish me if I were barren.'

When her father chooses a new black wife, she becomes `a black widow spider and engulfs whoever passes in her venom.' Even the black servants have to leave her, for everybody lives in this part of the world outside the law, therefore live only by the law they recognize in themselves. `This part of the world is naked in every direction to the eye of the hunter; he who cannot burrow is lost.'
But, `why do I not run away from the farm and die in civilization?' Because `I am corrupted to the bone with the beauty of this forsaken world. It takes generations of life to drive that nostalgia for country ways from the heart.'

In this raw picture of `a district outside the law' with its violent outer and inner confrontations between father and daughter, black and white, master and slave, virginity and longing for sexual intercourse, hate and melancholy, city and countryside, lawlessness and civilization, freedom and boredom and ultimately life and death, J.M. Coetzee portrayed a doomed land dominated by people who were obsessed only by the past.

Highly recommended to all lovers of world literature.
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on 2 August 2010
J.M Coetzy proves once more his deep compassion and knowledge concerning the nature of Man . "In the heart of the country" reminds one how a human being deprived of love in childhood can destroy their social & mind structure in later life. Magda's craving for the love of her father denied to her leads her to madness and revenge. When you have read one of Coetzee's novel, you want to read them all, then you will know that all you want to know about J.M C as he only reveals himself in his novels. J.M C , THE MAN is a sensitive,noble hearted and exceptional man concerneded with the suffering of all living beings.
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on 12 October 2007
I made two attempts at this book. The first time, I stopped at the grisly murders; the second time, I began after them. I found it an act of perseverence to continue to the end. Much of the time, I did not understand what was happening. Did his father marry a second time? Did she murder her father finally? What did she look like? Did she have hair on her face? Was she black? On and on the questions went. Still, as with all Coetzee's books, I was compelled by his prose. One final point, this woman telling the story, did not sound like a woman at all.
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on 8 January 2010
I recieved the book in only a few dys, which I was pleased about, but the condition was very poor. It was supposed to be "good" and I would have classified it as "poor".
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