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June 16, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Waiting for the Barbarians

By | 2018-03-21T18:29:17+02:00 May 22nd, 2005|Recent Reviews|

By J.M. Coetzee

Vintage, 1982 (2004). 178 pages.

Late in this bravura allegory, the Magistrate tells his murderous captor: “The crime that is latent in us we must inflict on ourselves… Not on others.” It’s a Kurtz-like declaration in a sinister, redemptive novel. The yes-man Magistrate runs a nameless frontier settlement on the fringes of the Empire. Cometh praetorians led by Colonel Joll whose brutality the Magistrate cannot rationalize.

Written at the height of Apartheid, Coetzee’s novel is a cuts like sharp paper. It pitches conscience as an act of rebellion and gobbles up the distance between barbarians and the would-be representatives of justice. The Empire feeds on “pyramids of bone,” but unlike Conrad’s overawed Kurtz, the Magistrate spits back.

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