Introduction by Sisonke Msimang
How do you eradicate contempt, especially when that contempt is founded on nothing more substantial than differences in table manners, variations in the structure of the eyelid? Shall I tell you what I sometimes wish? I wish that these barbarians would rise up and teach us a lesson, so that we would learn to respect them.
After twenty years of peacefully running one of the Empire’s settlements, a magistrate takes pity on an enemy barbarian who has been tortured. He enters into an awkward intimate relationship with her, and then is himself imprisoned as an enemy of the state.
Waiting for the Barbarians is a disturbing political fable about oppression, the fraught desire for reparation, and about living with a troubled conscience under an unjust regime. In examining who we think we are, Coetzee probes our dreams, thoughts, shame and desires.
In awarding the Nobel Prize to Coetzee in 2003, the committee called this lauded novel ‘a political thriller in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, in which the idealist’s naiveté opens the gates to horror’.
‘A real literary event.’
‘I have known few authors who can evoke such a wilderness in the heart of a man…Mr. Coetzee knows the elusive terror of Kafka.’
‘A power of historical immediacy gives this novel its thrust, its larger and, if you wish, universal value.’