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The condition of living on the edge of a fiery abyss is in some sense the subject of all of Mr. Coetzee's fiction. Whether they are enduring the injustices of apartheid or grappling with its aftermath, whether they are living in a readily identifiable South Africa or a more allegorical realm, all his characters are forced to come to terms with the precariousness of their existence, their susceptibility to the cruelties of history, to authoritarian, barbarian or merely random violence. In his finest novels, this predicament becomes a universal one: psychological as well as social; existential as well as political.
As in the work of many South African writers, the lines between the public and the private, the political and the personal are completely blurred in the fiction of Mr. Coetzee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
Michael K, the holy innocent in ``The Life & Times of Michael K'' (1984), may simply want to cultivate his garden of pumpkin plants, far away from the war that ravages his country, but he will be driven from his farm and sent to a labour camp under suspicion of being a terrorist. Similarly the character called the Magistrate in ``Waiting for the Barbarians'' (1982) may simply want to go about his humdrum life as an homme moyen sensuel, but he will be drawn into the campaign his government is conducting against the rebels who live on the empire's border and find himself charged with treason.
These two books, far and away the most powerful of Mr. Coetzee's novels, are set in allegorical worlds that have the moral resonance of fable yet also possess the specific gravity of recognisable historical places. At once austere and intense, his language conjures these mythic realms with chilly ardour, even as his fascination with narrative innovation is placed firmly in the service of his characters' stories.
Throughout his career Mr. Coetzee has remained fascinated with the same set of themes: the relationship between the powerful and the powerless, the dynamic between reality and imagination; the inability of parents and children to save one another from harm, the Darwinian nature of contemporary life and the costs of emotional survival. But with the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s, his fiction took a distinct turn, in some cases becoming more abstract and willfully literary, in others straining for topical relevance. New York Times
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