Book Review- Disgrace by J.M Coetzee


J.M Coetzee is an award winning writer who received Booker price twice. First in 1983 for his novel, ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ and in 1999 for ‘Disgrace’.

The novel Disgrace derives its inspiration for the social and political situation in the post apartheid South Africa. The country gained independence from apartheid colonilalism in 1994. 


The protagonist David Lurie teaches Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, South Africa. ‘A man of his age, fifty two, divorced, he has to his mind, solved the problems of sex rather well’, meets Soraya a prostitute every Thursday.  After Soraya stopped seeing him abruptly, he seduced a young girl Melanie Issac, his student. 


His run into disgrace starts when he was dismissed from the University for refusing to admit before the disciplinary committee he was wrong in his action.  ”Suffice to say that Eros entered. After that I was not the same’. That was all his explanation

He goes to visit his lesbian daughter Lucy. She was in her middle twenties living alone in a small holding, making a life out of growing vegetables and flowers and selling them in a nearby farm-stall in Salem in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.  

Then one Wednesday in the morning three Black men tricked their way into their home, raped Luzy locking Lurie up in the lavatory and later they burned him after dousing in methylated spirits.  They butchered Lucy’s dogs using her rifle, robbed household goods dumped them into Lurie’s car and sped away.  In the car he had kept his work on Byran, a project on which he was planning to work. 

Lucy reported the theft to the police for insurance claim but, to Lurie’s surprise not the rape.  Lucy became pregnant with the rape child but she wouldn’t abort it. He suggests she leaves the place to escape the horror of what had happened and which both of them were sure would happen again. But she wouldn’t buy any of those. 

And she agrees to a proposal made by Petrus her Black ‘gardener’ and ‘the dog -man’ to marry her not to ‘sleep with’ him but to have protection.  Hearing this, Lurie was ‘taken a back, astonished and dumbfounded’. And she gives her farm except her home to Petrus as her dowry.

Disgrace is a socio-political novel with strong historical and racial undercurrents. In 1999 the year it was published, South Africa as a young democracy was basking in its childhood.  Freedom marked on the one hand the demise of its White racist apartheid rule and on the other the beginning of a new, liberal political undertaking for a better non-racial, non-sexist, rainbow nation.

In its childhood, the rainbow nation was not progressing as peacefully and as progressively to match with the hopes and ambitions of its people- there were farm murdering, rapes and violence.

The plot and narratives of the novel found its latent energy from such a background and no wonder it immediately became a target of political criticism in the line of for and against the rainbow nation.   

The African National Congress, the ruling national party, submitted the novel to an investigation of the Human Rights Commission about racism in the media.

But Disgrace does not present a story in the straightforward manner, according to the reviews it received. It’s an allegory open to interpretation or it’s a suggestive novel. Lucy’s decision to ‘marry’ Petrus is her disgrace and can be interpreted as a possible fate every South African white girl would face. 

I read the novel last year (2014) for the second time, and I would say the South African White girls are not meeting with such a destiny as Disgrace suggests. The nation faces  issues, of corruption, nepotism, violence, crime and rapes, but the designers of its liberal policies have a lot to be proud about the way the nation is progressing. 


This post is for the Write Tribe Pro-blogger Challenge



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