Tag Archives: Coetzee

My Best 2008 Reads

Now that 2008 is lived through and packed safely in our memories, like most of us, I decided to visit my 2008 chamber of secrets to reveal my best registered reads of the year. These are not books published this year, only that my good fortune of reading them happened to be in 2008. The only criteria for the selection of these three titles was to judge which one of them had the greatest impact on my memory register and whether I would want to read them again if I had the time.

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The Book ThiefSometimes, all roads lead to Rome, no matter what. After watching The Pianist and Schindler’s List, and reading Liquidation by Kertesz and Cat & Mouse by Grass, the holocaust theme stuck with me. I had picked Book Thief randomly from the bookstore, just because the idea of Death being a narrator of what was publicized as a ‘teenage’ read sounded quite interesting. I was most pleasantly surprised by the power of this book and its depth, which was achieved in the company of most amazing simplicity. The Holocaust is a subject that will never exhaust the possibility of a fresh insight through fiction, and I believe, this is a befitting classic in that arena.
  2. Youth by J M Coetzee: Coetzee was an author I always heard of but never read. One fine Sunday in January 2008, I finally bought the first two Coetzee’s – The Master of Petersberg and Youth. Given my speed of reading, I never expected to finish them in a record time of 1.5 days each. Though I liked both titles and they go into my ‘all time favourites’ list, Youth had a special relevance for me. The protagonists journey from idealism to despair, I could identify with. Since then, I have often picked this little book and read a few random pages. Believe me, I have had something to think of every time.
  3. Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith: This was another random pick at the bookstore. The book was very beautifully designed and the description sounded too interesting to ignore. I had never even heard of Smith. Her style struck me as immensely powerful and refreshing. The ease with which Smith’s words wrap around various complexities of modern life in Girl Meets Boy is unparalleled. More than anything, this is a masterpiece in homosexual literature, in feminism, and in brevity. This amazing take on the myth of Iphis has got me hooked to the amazing Myth Series of the Canongate publishers, of which I now intend to read each title. I have since read Weight by Jeanette Winterson and Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith from the series. Though I found the latter disappointing, Winterson’s take on the myth of Atlas is one I am going to return to quite often.

There are quite a few other titles that are worth mentioning, even though the three above beat them to my best reads of the year. Weight by Jeanette Winterson for the brave denial of Atlas’s burden. Imre Kertesz’s Kaddish for an Unborn Child for intellectualising a horror that is difficult for mortals like me to even comprehend to any understanding whatsoever. Moreover, Kaddish raises a question that has perplexed me for quite sometime – If you had a choice, would you choose to be born? This question must not be confused to ‘Whether life is worth living?’ and ‘Whether suicide is a valid choice?’. Another memorable book would be the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Probably the only book I have ever read before it won the Booker. For me, the appeal of this book lies in its ability to make the haves contemplate the have nots. Also, this book finally broke the self-imposed prohibition on reading Indian fiction. Another book I must mention is Elie Wiesel’s Night, however, forgive me for I do not have the talent to comment on it. The only thing I can say is that every human being post 1945 must read it. One must know. That’s the minimum that can be done.

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Discovering Coetzee

To me, Coetzee was always the author who won the booker prize twice. Despite the intentions to read him, I never happened to pick anything by him. Then suddenly while browsing in a bookstore last week, I stumbled upon two of his titles which I could not resist buying. One was The Master of Petersburg and the other was Youth.

I work full time and am a really slow reader. Despite all the limitations, I finished both the books in 4 days straight (a personal best for me). I know (from whatever I have found on different literary blogs etc.) that these two are not considered to be amongst the best of Coetzee. However, for me, they shall remain the books that I discovered the genius of Coetzee from.Coezee at Work

I do not intend to outline the plot of either, therefore no spoiler warnings.

The Master of Petersburg has Dostoevsky as the protagonist. As if that was not enough, Coetzee has delved into deep and tricky themes such as a father-son relationship, death of a young son, marriage, relationships, sex, politics, revolution, communism, et all. Whether you like the plot or not, and I believe you will like it, this book deserves your time for the sheer pleasure of literary courage. I am in awe of Coetzee to have attempted and masterfully executed a fiction based on Dostoevsky with such difficult themes. After finishing Crime and Punishment and The BrothersKaramazov, I was a little disappointed that the world of Dostoevsky was over for me. With this book, I felt like I was visiting the dressing room area of that world.

Youth on the other hand will remain special forever for the connection that I could make with it. The theme is – a young guy, an artist by inclination but not by profession or training and his venture into the world. It is not possible for me to describe here, but anyone who has thought of himself as an ‘artist’ waiting for the right moment but-continuing-with-the-shit-for-the-time-being in his youth will be surprised to see how much of him Coetzee has been able to portray in the book. It is an honest, scary, but true description of how we let things happen to us despite best intentions; about the insane circle of reality that makes us let our desired life stay away from us. Coetzee beautifully portrays how an artist by inclination not pursuing art is not an artist-in-the-waiting; he is dead.

There is not much that is required to be said about Coetzee here, people have said enough. I only confirm that in my experience in these two books – he is better than his name.