JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing

This one sounds very interesting. I hope someone decides to publish this Stateside soon, or at least figures out some way to sell it here . . .

John Maxwell Coetzee, the great South African man of letters, is a paradoxical figure. On the one hand he is known to guard his privacy intensely. On the other hand, he has published three volumes of “fictionalised memoirs” already: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002) and Summertime (2009). Exactly to what degree these three works adhered to the historical facts of his life has always been unclear: Coetzee consistently refuses to elaborate on interpretations of his work once published. “All writing is autobiography,” he has said more than once. The question of how accurate the autobiographical trilogy is will perhaps provide one titillating motivation for readers to pick up this new biography. The short answer is – Boyhood and Youth are largely true to the record; Summertime strays far more into the fictional domain.

Coetzee’s choice to cooperate with biographer John Kannemeyer is an interesting one. Many others must surely have come knocking, but the closest Coetzee has come previously to backing such a project was David Atwell’s Doubling the Point (1992), a collection of essays and interviews. Kannemeyer was hailed as one of the foremost authorities on Afrikaans literature – the obvious dissonance being that Coetzee, despite his surname, is not an Afrikaans writer. (The biography does relate how, after Coetzee won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, Afrikaans historian Hermann Giliomee emailed Coetzee to say that the Afrikaans press were calling him an Afrikaner. Giliomee wanted to know if it was true. Coetzee replied: “If they want me, they can have me.”) . . .

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