Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee

Waiting for the Barbarians

South Africa – a broken nation, war torn for what seems to be forever. Waiting for the Barbarians is a story of moral differences and power. A story depicting the cruelty of humans upon others by the hand of power. The torture scenes are raw, leaving the reader disturbed. The prose both moving and powerful as only Coetzee pens.

“I wondered how much pain a plump comfortable old man would be able to endure in the name of his eccentric notions of how the Empire should conduct itself. But my torturers were not interested in degrees of pain. They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it till it coughs and retches and flails and voids itself.”


The story is poignant and deeply moving, Coetzee’s words leave you breathless. The characters so contrasting – an increasingly sympathetic magistrate and a sadistic, cruel colonial, and of course the barbarians the innocent. A story lingering with the reader for quite a while. Similar to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – haunting, disturbing, memorable.

“Let it at least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian.”

Published October 1st 1999 by Penguin Books (first published 1980)
Pages 160
ISBN13: 9780140283358

Recommendation: 4/5


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