Dusklands Paperback – 6 Aug 1998
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"Coetzee's vision goes to the nerve center of being" (Nadine Gordimer)
"Its unflinching sense of loss, its claustrophobic acknowledgement of the unwilling interdependence of master and slave, and its subtle prose-style, make it an extraordinary achievement" (Guardian)
"His writing gives off whiffs of Conrad, of Nabokov, of Golding, of the Paul Theroux of The Mosquito Coast. But he is none of these, he is a harsh, compelling voice" (Sunday Times)
"Intense, clear and powerful. The promise, so brilliantly fulfilled in his later work, is clear in this earliest novel" (Daily Telegraph)
The lives of a Boer frontiersman and a specialist in psychological warfare living two centuries apart are brought together as extremes of power politics in this brutal, ambitious debut novel from the Booker and Nobel Prize-winning J. M. Coetzee.See all Product description
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter mobile phone number.
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Which isn’t to say it’s not a very good book. Like grown-up Coetzee, little Coetzee dislikes everyone, especially himself, but this is better than self-pity, I suppose. He describes the racism, brutality and narrow-mindedness of rural Afrikaans South Africa with great accuracy (sadly, I am not sure much has changed since Boyhood’s 1940s - 1950s setting), but without stereotyping the Afrikaners. It is perhaps no wonder that a sensitive child, unable to grow accustomed to discrimination, the destructive caprices of adults and the violence of Apartheid South Africa, should form such a grim world view. There are some lovely passages on the narrator’s love of his uncle’s farm and the outdoors.
I most appreciated the novel a portrait of a kind of vulnerability specific to sensitive and intelligent children. As is often the case with Coetzee’s books (for me), Boyhood is a ‘good’ book, but the narrator’s disgust for human failings depresses me. I am weak enough to prefer my realism tempered with some delusional compassion for my own and hopefully others’ weakness.
The first thing prospective readers should know about Dusklands is that it is not a novel proper, but rather, a pair of thematically linked novellas. The second thing that readers should know is that Coetzee's preoccupation with imperialism remains in full force in these inaugural works. Point being, I have yet to devour a book by Coetzee that qualifies as a comfy beach read.
The first novella, "The Vietnam Project", shows us a glimpse inside the mind of a mythography researcher for the U.S. government. From his opening line, the speaker is easily pinned as an unreliable narrator: "My name is Eugene Dawn. I cannot help that. Here goes." Dawn's mission: to write a report analyzing the effectiveness of U.S. propaganda in the Vietnam war. In an odyssey echoing that of Poprishchin in Gogol's "Diary of a Madman", we come along for the ride leading up to Dawn's confinement in a psychiatric facility.
While Dawn is less absurdly psychotic than Poprishchin, it is his position in society as a military research drone that makes his gradually unveiled insanity comparably unsettling. Besides an eventual act of violence and his all-but-admitted misogyny, the most off-putting of Dawn's actions in the story is his refusal to visit Vietnam and actually see that country that he is giving his government tactical recommendations to more effectively destroy. This inaction makes Dawn into a pinpointed exemplar of a dangerous brand of white, first-world ignorance and arrogance.
Both novellas in Dusklands undoubtedly form a concise attack on imperialism, but Coetzee makes it blatantly clear that he is not atop a high horse able to wade through the bog of history unscathed. In fact, characters in both novellas are named Coetzee. In "The Vietnam Project" there is a Coetzee who supervises and criticizes Dawn's reports, but in the second novella it is clear from title alone - "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" - that Coetzee the author is unafraid to take his historical complicity one step further.
In a bold act of literary penance, "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" acts as the more harrowing ancestor to "The Vietnam Project". Jacobus Coetzee consumes the same brand of white, first-world arrogance as Eugene Dawn, but unlike Dawn, Coetzee's story takes place in 1760s South Africa. Despite being billed in a scholarly afterword as one of the “heroes who first ventured into Southern Africa and brought back news of what we had inherited”, the true character of Coetzee cannot be hidden in his narrative – no matter how much the centuries of winner-written history attempts to obscure it.
In “Narrative”, Coetzee gets much closer to imperialist atrocities than Dawn does in his secluded library basement in “Project”. Although the two differ in physical proximity to the unspeakable acts, both characters remain psychologically detached from imperialism’s inherent evil. Even in the thick of a Hottentot bloodbath, Jacobus Coetzee remains faithful to his Western delusion of native other-ness in the name of imperialist avarice.
Dusklands is not for the faint of heart, but for those interested in post-colonialism, the history of imperialism, and Coetzee’s bibliography, I recommend this read wholeheartedly.
"The Vietnam Project" is narrated by Eugene Dawn, an analyst and specialist in mythology who has been directed to prepare a study on the effectiveness of American propaganda to date (1973) in the Vietnam War. Dawn's opening remarks make it clear that his work has become his obsession, making him withdrawn, antisocial, and sexually dysfunctional. Then comes the formally structured part of his report, in which he draws upon universal myths to explain the errors Americans have committed in Vietnam and the potential courses of action for breaking the resistance of the enemy. Paragraph by paragraph we see the author increasingly drawn into the apocalyptic vision he has created of godlike and arbitrary coercive power.
The second piece, "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," takes us back more than 200 years to the Dutch exploration and exploitation of South Africa. Jacobus Coetzee is a rancher, hunter and explorer who sets out with six native servants on an expedition into the uncharted interior to hunt elephants. The focus of Coetzee's narrative is not on the hunt, but on his views of, and relationships with, the native peoples: Bushmen and Hottentots. In what eventually becomes a struggle with the Hottentots, then a battle for survival, Coetzee employs many of the mythological elements and metaphors used by Eugene Dawn in his Vietnam analysis.
The mythological concept of the blue-eyed sky god exalting in his power by making war upon the earth appears in many incarnations in both narratives: as B-52s bombing Vietnam, and as Coetzee's musket ball embedding itself in the soil. In parallel is the notion of the struggle for power between father and child, and always sexuality is equated with physical power and domination, not eroticism.
Dusklands is a powerful and bitter indictment of imperialism, filled with images of extreme and graphic violence. It is also a thoughtful treatise on the nature of power as expressed in mythology, politics, racial oppression, propaganda and warfare.
Look for similar items by category