7. Disgraced (J.M. Coetzee)

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Thanks to Mara for this book recommendation, which won a Nobel prize.  I did not appreciate the main character, David but was an interesting book set in Africa after the apartheid. It contrasted goodness with the evil along with themes of dominance, acceptance and forgiveness.

David was a divorced teacher who was very set in his ways. He had weekly trips to a prostitute that he enjoyed until he saw her out with her sons and he saw her differently. He became interested in one of his young students and took advantage of her sexually. A complaint was made and unbelievably, he was given an opportunity to save his job. He was set in his ways, refused to comply with his admission of guilt and counselling that could have salvaged his job and was fired.

The next part of the story saw him visit his daughter, Lucy, on her farm in the African countryside. Her partner had left her and she was alone. He stayed with her, helping with the market and volunteering with a neighbor who cared for sick and unwanted animals. Although he initially felt distain for the woman, he slept with her and ended up gently helping with the difficult task of euthanasia and respectfully taking the dog’s bodies to the crematorium.

While staying with his daughter, the farm was attacked. David was physically abused and briefly set aflame. He was locked in the bathroom while his daughter was raped. David could not understand her reaction – she did not tell the entire story to the police and did not want to talk about it. David wanted justice. He had failed as a father, not being able to protect her and then not being able to convince her to seek justice.

In the end, David has returned to find Lucy pregnant. He is frustrated by her living arrangements and the “protection” she has agreed to on the farm but has accept her choices. The final scene has him helping at the animal rescue. He has a dog that he has enjoyed and is taking him to be euthanized. He has the power to spare him for another week but instead carries him gently to the table.

I can’t say that I loved this book but it really did make me think. Parts of it reminded me a little bit of Lolita as David’s actions were repulsive and selfish. I did not like the character David – he was weak, selfish and although he could not take responsibility for his actions. Even given the chance to do something noble – save the dog, he was resigned to him being put to sleep and did not save him.

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