Icarus and Albatross: Rising above Nationality in J.M. Coetzee’s Autrebiographies and Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room
Damon Galgut, born 1963, became first known outside his native South Africa in 2003 when his novel The Good Doctor was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In 2010 Galgut’s In a Strange Room, a book strikingly different from the overtly political earlier novel, was shortlisted for the same prize.1 In a Strange Room consists of three narratives describing the protagonist’s travels. The first, “The Follower,” is set in 1993. Damon travels to Greece where he meets the German Reiner. They later agree to travel to Lesotho, where both give signals inviting physical contact, but no intimacy occurs. Instead, alienation builds up between the cold, domineering but attractive Reiner and the passive Damon. A few years later, in the narrative called “The Lover,” Damon follows a group of backpackers through Africa. He falls in love with the Swiss Jerome who speaks only French, and a gap remains between Jerome and him even when he visits him and his family in Switzerland. The third part, “The Guardian,” tells of Damon’s travel with his mentally troubled friend Anna to India. Despite Damon’s attempts to stabilise her, Anna attempts to kill herself, and her diary reveals that she had planned to do so. Each of these journeys ends in disaster, although it is clear that Damon has the best intentions.
Three observations will strike the reader as remarkable after a few pages. The first is the constant switching between first person and third person narration.2 The narrative maintains the...
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