Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Fitbit



There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 22 January 2017
The story is narrated by the unnamed magistrate of a small colonial town that exists as the territorial frontier of ‘the Empire’ yet recognizable as a 'universalized'’ version of South Africa. The Magistrate’s peaceful existence comes to an end with the Empire’s declaration of a state of emergency and the Third Bureau, a police force are sent due to rumours that the area's indigenous people, called ‘barbarians’ by the colonists, are preparing to attack the town. It is a disturbing story of empire, imperialism, slavery, torture and colonialism. The Third Bureau arrive but there are no barbarians there so they venture out into the wildness where they are convinced the barbarians must be gathered waiting to attack but there are no army of barbarians waiting for them. This is a common theme throughout the story, that the actual spectre of the barbarians, the Other being at the gates about to invade, is more powerful than the reality, because people like Empire need a scapegoat, someone to blame when things go wrong, someone to vent their anger and rage at. It would seem blame is a mirror in which you see every face but your own.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 July 2017
A story for all times: who are the barbarians?
Coetzee's thrilling novel on power, abuse and non-sense.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 April 2016
Modern literature doesn't come any better.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 18 January 2015
I read anything that wins the brilliant James Tait Black Memorial Prize - as this book did. And I can appreciate why it won the award, as the prose is so well constructed. It is almost perfect writing, in that economical, sparing style (never wasting a word) that is de rigueur in modern novels. But it is not much fun, and combined with a dreary subject, and a dreary main character, simply results in a dull, yet highly accomplished book. As another reviewer said, there are not really any interesting ideas in this book other than pretty obvious ones about torture being unpleasant etc.

So unworthy of the high praise it has received.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 14 February 2000
I enjoyed this softly written, almost poetic book. It is an allegorical tale, exploring oppression, guilt and personal morality, and set in a strange and timeless place 'on the edge of the Empire:' The story of a gentle man whose motives are always mixed, but who in the end is the prime force for decency and humanity in the enclosed world he inhabits. Well written in a simple and earthy style that still allows the author to handle the broad themes of guilt and redemption. Coetzee creates a real sense of life on the edge of a literal and metaphysical desert, and by the end of the book, there is no doubt just who the Barbarians are.
0Comment| 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 June 2001
For me, this is the best of Coetzee's books. Rarely has this form of human loneliness been expressed with the same poetic and tragic ease. The desert in the story seems to grow and grow unrelentingly, stopping not even to allow the captain space to breathe. And behind the soft exposition of the plight of the isolated town in the story is pin-sharp writing; not a word has been wasted. By his very economy with words, Coetzee takes us to the edge of the abyss and we only realise it when staring hard into it. A remarkable book, and nothing less than a masterpiece.
0Comment| 43 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 November 2015
Poetic prose at its most powerful. 'We are the great miracle of creation!' screams The Magistrate in a desperate attempt to discourage The Colonel's men from smashing the skulls of the captive Barbarians with hammers. But beware of what you ask of your reader. Coetzee's novel asks questions; who should make the laws, are there occasions when they can be broken, where does cruelty come from, why does mankind have a compulsion to humiliate his neighbour, how do we deal with our sexuality, is old age as terrifying as we think it is? And just as satire has been proven not to change the behaviour of those who are satirized why should this novel make any difference to Man? Though the questions could not be more beautifully posed they are too monumental for each of us to even begin to engage with, and the feelings they produce in the reader are anger, guilt, frustration, and depression. In a hundred years time there will still be novels like this asking exactly the same questions.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 25 February 2008
J M Coetzee's 1980 allegorical gem is heavily influenced by Dino Buzzati's Tartar Steppe, perhaps the most existentially melancholic novel of the twentieth century. Both are set in remote outposts in vast empty wildernesses where man and his constructions are literally just dots on the horizon. In each book there is an enemy, undefined except by rumour and by name: the northerners in Buzzati, the barbarians in Coetzee (though he does once refer to them as northerners, thus signifying his debt to Buzzati). However, the other worldliness of the Tartar Steppe is given a definite point of reference in Waiting for the Barbarians; that of a repressive imperial state resembling in theme, if not environment, Vorster's apartheid South Africa.
The narrator is a lonely magistrate in a frontier town who, though far from the centre of the oppressive state security apparatus, is complicit in its existence by administering its laws (and abusing his position by frequent sexual dalliances with vulnerable women). It doesn't take participation, just indifference, a blind eye. Although always uneasy about his role in the system, he continues as benignly as possible in order to lead a quiet life. It is only on the arrival of a group of interrogators, and having witnessed their arbitrary and brutal methods, that he instinctively rebels. At one point a girl is invited to pick up a rod and beat a prisoner in the yard. `You are depraving these people!' he shouts. He is thus branded an enemy of the state and a `barbarian lover' and committed to prison and subjected to a regime of humiliation and degradation. The breathless tension that follows is extraordinary at times.
All tyrannies survive on a diet of rumour, propaganda and lies, and eventually lose touch with reality and fall. It is true that there have been many regimes that have ruthlessly persecuted one section of the community, but what made South Africa unique was that the persecution was sanctioned by, and enshrined in, its national law. It was this that made the apartheid regime especially paranoid and nasty, and it cost them one of the world's finest writers. For Coetzee is that. There is nobody alive who can write in such taut, crystal clear, elegant English and yet exude such creative and emotional energy as this quiet, private intellectual. His books are so concise and so eloquent and so powerful that it is a mystery how he achieves the effect that he does. No wonder that the hypocritical apartheid regime was so scared of him. This and Disgrace are considered his finest works.
22 Comments| 32 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 4 December 2007
The more I read of Coetzee the more I appreciate his work. This book is a slim volume, but contains so much. The narrative reflects the dicotomy of one mans life. The main character, a Magistrate in an outpost town, is a flawed human, trying to do the right thing as often as he can. As with so much of Coetzees work this novel reaches out and asks much of the reader, it will bring things to the surface, make you consider yourself and your actions. We are all the Magistrate of the novel in one way or another.
The style of the novel is so sparse and yet incredibly dense, this is not a book you will read quickly, it needs your full attention, to absorb the cahracters and their motives. While I read it I kept comparing it to the current state of our World and the indiviuals place in it. I'm certain this was Coetzees aim and he affects it brilliantly.
You will not do better then JM Coetzee.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 April 2012
This book is a complete masterpiece, for the strong first person narrative alone I would recommend it, the pace and style of writing are totally absorbing and engaging while the narrative has a certain timeless quality to it. The magistrate of the imperial outpost is in a real sense everyman, the imperial outpost itself every settlement or village community and the story is vague enough in detail to leave you wondering if it is taking place in the distant future or the distant past. For those reasons alone, not to mention just how enjoyable a read this proved to be, I could recommend this book. However, there are other reasons I can think of also.

It is true that the book does feature a kind of protracted meditation upon complicity in oppression, the magistrate is impotent to prevent or challenge petty cruelties let alone what the central authority's bureau can cook up in the pursuit of their imagined threats to the empire. The bureau first arrives, disturbing the peace of the frontier, on a kind of fact finding mission, whose aftermath leaves in its wake a victim, or survivor, with whom the magistrate interacts, beginning the story proper, the second appearence of the bureau heralds developments which will bring the story towards its conclusion. At first the bureau is confirming a threat and finally seeking to decisively remove it. The conceit and cruelty of ranking officialdom is portrayed in contrast with the humane, embattled, some what befuddled even, magistrate whose preoccupations and concerns are personal and seemingly trivial. While seemingly conflicted in his choices, very possibly investing some of them, such as a hobby excavating ruins or dreams about the bureau's victims, with greater than warranted significance, the magistrate's motif is decency.

This, for me, was not the crowning achievement of the novel though. What the author manages to do is to create a truly alien 'other', or counterpart to the known, in the minds of his characters and narrator. That is, the barbarian 'other' is portrayed from the imaginings of the narrator and those like himself that are part of the Empire. These characters perfectly fail to properly understand the 'other', which remains alien to them throughout. While the magistrate's expectations prove less wide of the mark to those of the Empire's bureau men it is clear that he does share their thinking. He differs only in believing that the barbarians while not a threat presently will prove a threat eventually, if only in retaliation to the Bureau's offensive.

It did not fail to register with me that this was not an accurate picture of the barbarian others as they were actually known, nomads, uninterested in the Empire's frontier and taking nothing to do with it. Rather this was a mirror image of the Empire itself. Those awaiting a barbarian invasion, either immanent or eventually, were only projecting upon the 'other' what the Empire was itself engaged in all along. It is the Empire which is encroaching upon the nomads lands, it is the Empire which captures, tortures and kills, it is the Empire which to all intents and purposes is behaving in the most uncivilised and barbaric ways.

That is what made this such a great book for me, I can honestly say that I've not enjoyed reading a book as much since discovering Orwell's social realist style of journalism and first person accounts some ten plus years ago. A very thought provoking book, which even if you dont appreciate it for the same reasons as myself you are bound to find interesting for its sympathetic character development or closely observed social realism. I'm only sorry that I finished it so soon.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse


Need customer service? Click here