An old man entering his last phase finds himself reaching out, but after the arrogance and license of his more attractive years he finds that there is nobody left to hold onto. Seeking the comfort of those who must love him, he travels across the country only to serve as a witness as his daughter discovers in her adversity a final resting place for her soul.
In “Disgrace”, J.M. Coetzee’s acclaimed novel – based in modern South Africa – the overlay of the white western with the existential black African dilemma transcends. The shell of modernity in a pre-modern world – the impunity of development in a precariously tribal land. The elemental hate of race relations as the canvas upon which a story about the personal discovery of a man is written. This could all be inspiring; but what if this path leads instead to the realization of the profoundly commonplace?
Telling that story is difficult, but Coetzee did it well.
This book was sad, and therefore not a stress-free read. Those of us who are novelists understand that the key to a novel is starting well, holding people’s interest as we develop our characters and then delivering at the end. In this process, and especially with a novel such as this, Coetzee shows himself to be a master. This is especially true because the plot of this book was not a natural, easy win. We all like to read books about supermen. We swoon over love stories that depict the magnificent. We revere the heroic. But what if our characters are despicable? Not despicable because they are genius masterminds or irresistible powers of evil. Despicable because they are petty and miserable and insignificant. How does that story attract? How do you make this tale sing? That is the challenge that Coetzee faced – and overcame – with “Disgrace”.
Disgrace is a short story, and for this reason I won’t reveal its secrets. I will tell you I was surprised and moved in ways I would not have imagined. It was not epic and sweeping, but instead deeply human. But it is these types of novels that lend us our humanity. Read this book, you will be better for it.