Sunday, August 12, 2007

Book Review: Disgrace

reviewed by V. K. Ehrenreich

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

The hero of Disgrace is a real “b_ _ _ _ _ _.” The Booker Prize winner, J. M. Coetzee provides us with a portrait of the new Afrikaner who is forced to interact with blacks on an equal often humiliating basis. The balance of power is in flux in the new South Africa. What galls Communications Professor David Lurie is the knowledge that a black man (actually 3 blacks) can rape his daughter and get away with it. What escapes Lurie is the similarity between his alleged rape of his young female student and the violent act of the black youths.

The dynamics of the rapes differ in the “how”. On a rainy day in Cape Town, Lurie invites his young student into his house. Under the spell of Eros, the professor partakes of his dessert from a limp, passive student. When the girl’s boyfriend threatens Lurie and tells the girl’s prominent family, the prof loses his job and seeks refuge in his disgrace at his lesbian daughter’s Eastern Cape flower farm/ dog kennel. On a Wednesday morning, three black youths ask to use Lucy’s phone; once inside they lock Lurie in the loo (bathroom) and partake of Lucy’s desserts. Under the spell of hatred, the three blacks plunge their violent disturbing revenge for centuries of abuse into the limp, passive Lucy. Is passion out of lust more acceptable than passion out of hatred?

Lurie nearly manages to redeem himself in his determination to protect his daughter from the “bywoner” (tenant farmer) Petrus. Having knowledge of the planned rape/theft and the rapists, one of whom is his nephew, Petrus is eager to annex Lucy’s property to his small farm. Although not overtly stated, Petrus believes the land belongs to the blacks and he is reclaiming what belonged to his people before the invasion of the whites. Again the dynamics are in the “how”. Petrus is very polite with his long pipe and smile but his deeds are those of the greedy white man. Symbolically, the lives of the two races are inextricably linked in the child Lucy now carries. While seeking to dissuade Lucy from accepting Petrus’ offer of protection and marriage, Lurie is helpless to protect his daughter in the new South Africa. The only explanation/redemption for Lurie’s initial act of disgrace lies in his belief that, “Every woman I have been close to has taught me something about myself (p 70).” Lucy complains to her egocentric father that everything is about “you”. She is right on.

Coetzee, J. M., Disgrace, 1999, New York:Viking.

Veronica Ehrenreich holds a MFA in Film and a MLIS. She taught Film Studies at California State University, Sacramento, and is an on-call librarian at Sacramento Public Library and California State University, Sacramento.

J. M. Coetzee has won several literary awards for his fiction and non-fiction works. Coetzee is the only writer to have won the Booker Award twice.

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