This Nobel prize writer is still obsessed by his youth on the veld in South Africa and in his continued auto-biography ( this is the continuation of "Youth"and "Boyhood, scenes from provincial life "), he attempts a fictional interview of J.MCoetzee (himself) presented as dead . It is quite frightening ( I thought that he was really dead at first) and curiously quite revealing as a search for truth ; it ends up presenting a complex and sometimes unflattering portrait of Coetzee, whom the fake interviewer does not know personally by the way.
In the period of his life presented here, he is 30 years old and has returned to South Africa to live with his old father while he is in between jobs : a more dismal and lonely life can hardly be described in a run- down cabin, in a country with no future inhabited by people who see nothing and understand nothing of the political situation ( post -apartheid) but just continue living as impoverished farmers or impatient potential immigrants to Australia or New Zeeland . Young Coetzee , a failed writer at this point, is the typical anti-hero ,whose return home is fraught with alienation , relentless disappointment,sorrow and the piercing inability to connect with either his Afrikaner family or the women he meets; he wanders around forlorn in this dusty desert land , unredeemed loner , looking for his childhood happy remembrances. Poor soul. Mostly he fails in all his women encounters ; they all find him emotionally dead, unable to express his feelings , not allowing a relationship to grow " ,being a weak presence" etc. On the whole a rather sinister and discouraging portrait which few writers would allow of themselves, when one thinks of it. We perceive here clearly a very clever imitation iof the famed " Portrait of the artist as a young man " not as funny and witty but sad and profound.
We can recall the literary pastiche of other novels of Coetzee such as "Foe" (imitation of Robinson Crusoe), and " The Master of St Petersburg" ( imitation of Dostoievsky ) which were quite effective . Here one of the more haunting quality of this work is the nostalgia for a dying way of life,the Pioneer Boers ( his clan) rooted on this tough land,now growing meager crops because drought is increasing , loosing money, being evicted by modern industrial life and vilified as racist pigs.He is grieving for them.
"Coetzee saw Africa through a romantic haze" says one of his academic mistress , adding that he was "too Calvinist to invest in Utopian longings",which means that our human condition is to him, a fallen state ; the black liberation struggle was just but it is not enough, and the future of the country is terrible since fighting prolongs the cycle of aggression and retaliation. A gloomy perspective , a land where the whites ultimately would all leave because their presence there was seen as legal but illegitimate since it was based on colonial conquest and apartheid .
These ambivalent and tragic feelings pervade all south African literature inevitably, think of Nadine Gordimer , and naturally these fictionalized memoirs presented as a lasting testimony , are no exception .This book proves rather uneasy to read because one has to accept its strange status of a false auto –biography ; one does in fact, but it is mainly a meditation on a life of exile and it is deeply moving.