Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life
Coetzee grew up in a new development north of Cape Town, tormented by guilt and fear. With a father he despised, and a mother he both adored and resented, he led a double life—the brilliant and well-behaved student at school, the princely despot at home, always terrified of losing his mother’s love. His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and a growing awareness of apartheid left him with baffling questions; and only in his love of the high veld (“farms are places of freedom, of life”) could he find a sense of belonging. Bold and telling, this masterly evocation of a young boy’s life is the book Coetzee’s many admirers have been waiting for, but never could have expected.
Until writing this book, the author of Waiting for the Barbarians and other acclaimed novels has remained determinedly private about the personal experiences that sparked his writing. In Boyhood, describing his youth in the third person, J. M. Coetzee limns the halting struggle toward maturity of a sensitive, bookish boy contemptuous of his weak father who yearns—and fears—to loosen a powerful attachment to his mother. He evokes the narrowness and cruelty of South African society in the years following World War II with the same austere yet passionate prose that distinguishes his fiction.