Waiting for the Barbarians

by J.M. Coetzee

Penguin Books, 1982

WaitingForTheBarbariansCoverJ.M. Coetzee is a South African writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.  If you like happy stories, look elsewhere.  If you like powerful writing that deals profoundly with darker aspects of the human psyche, read on.

Waiting for the Barbarians is an intense and mythical allegory that takes place in an imaginary desolate land.  The story is told by the magistrate of a remote village.  Outsiders arrive in the village to drive the barbarians from the surrounding region.  Torture is used on innocents who are suspected of having information about the helpless barbarians.  The book is written from the magistrate’s cynical point of view in a way that is not self-serving but self-deprecating.  The magistrate struggles to maintain his moral standard under a host of misgivings about himself.  Despite his own doubts we know he is right.

Power, paranoia, and torture.  There are uncanny parallels in Waiting for the Barbarians to the global stage in modern times.  The human condition remains much the same.

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