← VI | 1 →Introduction
John Maxwell Coetzee is a writer who, like his fiction, reaches beyond easy definitions and fixed categorisations. Born and raised in South Africa, he emigrated to Europe and America to continue his university education and launch a professional career. As a result of his involvement in anti-Vietnam War protests, he was forced to return to his homeland and finally, after retiring, settled in Australia. This brief biographical outline might already hint at the ambiguous status of the writer: Coetzee’s fiction is deeply indebted to European literary tradition,1 yet it grows out of a local cultural, historical and material reality. Significantly, Coetzee distances himself from politics and from the role of a writer who is a South African national. In one interview, he asks “whether it isn’t simply that vast and wholly ideological superstructure constituted by publishing, reviewing and criticism that has forced on [him] the fate of being a ‘South African novelist’” (Morphet qtd. in Stanton 61). Nevertheless, it does not immediately follow that Coetzee severs all links with his homeland, relieving himself of the ensuing obligations and responsibilities. To the contrary, he sets some of his novels in South Africa and engages them in a dialogue with regional literary discourse. “His novels retreat and roam; like Michael K, they root themselves ‘nowhere,’” notices T. Kai Norris Easton, who then hastens to add: “[b]ut the South African base is there – in Cape, from which his stories emigrate. […] Indeed, Coetzee’s work carries a double tendency towards the South...
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