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In this youth memories, J.M. Coetzee defines himself as `twice-born: `born from woman and born from the farm'. He is, first of all, a mother's son (`he clings to her as his only protector'), but `the farm is his secret fate'.
Growing up in a rude and unsocialized family with eccentric characters, with a father who becomes an alcoholic and a mother, for whom `studying is just nonsense' and `children should be sent to trade school', he nevertheless continues to study `normally'.
Through school, he discovers the real world around him: the different social classes, the opposition (and ostracism) between black / colored and white (race), English and Afrikaans (language), and Catholic / Protestant and Anglican (religion).

This clear, sublime, impeccable prose is a far cry from J.M. Coetzee's struggling `Beckettian' beginnings.
Its undercooled, accurate and still dramatic style makes this book a marvelous and moving read.
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on 5 January 2002
Dusklands is a technically brilliant book, although it is sometimes difficult to penetrate. It tackles such themes as slavery, power and the relationship between truth and memory.
It is split into two novellas which, although set in different countries and different periods of history, have many similarities. This is particularly apparent in the way the central characters are driven first to madness, then to perverse acts of violence, towards those supposedly close to them.
Coetzee's prose style in this, his first book, is as sparse as in his later work. The second narrative in particular contains some staggering feats of description and the clarity with which the author illustrates the decline of the Boer frontiersman through illness is exhilarating.
This is not an easy book to pick up and dip into. It demands a lot from the reader, it is at times disorientating and, by the end, it offers few firm conclusions about the issues it tackles. However, it should be required reading for anyone who enjoyed any of Coetzee's more popular later novels.
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on 29 March 2000
This is one of the best books I have read on the subject of childhood. The narration of the young S. African boy is so compelling and emotional. Describing his fears, worries, his questions on life that no one gives an answer to. Coetzee has managed to sum up the (sometimes) terrifying process of growing up in one book.
Very real, very true and very touching. This book has melted my heart...
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on 5 April 2010
Initially it is rather unsettling to read an autobiography of sorts written in the 3rd person and it takes a while to settle into the pace of the book. But after a while it spins it's magic and pulls you in as do most of Coetzee's works. It's a fabulous evocation of childhood, made more moving by the bizarre backdrop of South Africa at the time - segregation and ostracization was rife across all of SA, including it's children. JMC's spare, clinical, unemotional writing style somehow manages to stir powerful emotions in the reader and reading the book is, perhaps surprisingly, a genuinely moving experience.
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on 11 January 2014
Once again, I was left stunned by Coetzee's incisive instruments which cut to the bone - of truth, of reality. Even so, i wanted to return to absorb sections of the book which, begged re-living the experience (evocative of Doris Lessing's pure Africa, and inhabitants) The early part of the book can rouse spontaneous recognition, laughter, at a young boy's viewa or comments on his world and events. The third person device does not impinge - it cleverly removes the need for elaboration. As the story progresses, we move with the boy's shedding of naivety, the questionings and doubts about a mixed society, a small town, a parochial school world, Contrast this with his forays into the land of the Karoo, different relatives, sparse farmlands, where the dust gets into your throat, the thorns will lodge..while his observations sharpen, and becomes aware of passions, Yet, as he grows, he appears steadily,defensively,more obstreperous and we are the audience, This book may seem to be an apology to his mother, at times. He has spurned her devoted efforts on his behalf almost throughout (and for his younger brother), He juggles his other scorn which grow towards his other parent, his father. They move to another town. His mother is stoic in her remarkable fortitude and abilities,sadly, . Luckily the boy is clever and ambitious, though with only an almost mystical awareness of that. The boy remains, for me, an entrenched (other) character,by Coetzze, He is under my skin and never forgotten, even it that would infuriate him, by nature!
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on 30 July 2004
"Dusklands" consists of two very different parts. In "The Vietnam Project", Mr Coetzee tells the story of Eugene Dawn, a specialist in psychological warfare whose task it is to establish a document called the Vietnam Project dealing with the so-called Phase IV of the Vietnam conflict in the years 1973-1974. To give his imagination a helpful impulse, Dawn carries with him photographs that will illustrate the report. They show gruesome scenes of the war like for example sergeant Clifford Houston copulating with a Vietnamese woman or two other sergeants, Berry and Wilson, posing with several severed Vietnamese heads as trophies. But soon Dawn is driven to breakdown and madness by the stress of this macabre project to win the war in Vietnam. After having been driven to a nearly fatal assault on his child Martin, Dawn is placed in an institution. The text closes with Dawn reflecting as follows: "I have high hopes of finding whose fault I am."
"The narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" is actually a translation from Afrikaans by J.M. Coetzee of a text published in 1762. It is the account of a hideous vengeance of a frontiersman on a tribe of Hottentots in South Africa.
Both Eugene Dawn in the 1970s and Jacobus Coetzee in the 1760s are dealers in death who claim their humanity and impressively express their feelings of guilt.
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on 10 August 2013
This is a very sad and quite unpleasant book, but beautifully written, and extremely original and interesting. Will read it again.
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on 5 October 2003
One of my favourite Coetzee novels: Sharp, incisive, penetrative, crucially and brilliantly perceptive, especially on the issues of violence and cruelty. A very technically tight first novel.
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on 8 January 2014
Good book and reveals the mind of a growing child. Great insight into apartheid South Africa. Well written and
good descriptions. Works the imagination
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on 20 September 2014
Two different views of South Africa. An interesting read. Part of a set book list for an MA in English.
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