Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa's highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Imaginatively conceived and richly orchestrated, this slim novel by the author of Waiting for the Barbarians is at once a variant of the immortal Robinson Crusoe and a complex parable of art and life. Englishwoman Susan Barton, having been cast away by Portuguese mutineers, reaches the remote island occupied by another castaway named Cruso (sic and his man Friday. She lives on the desolate rocky island for over a year before they are ``rescued'' by an English ship. Cruso dies en route, and she and Friday are transported to England. The world, she says, demands stories of its adventurers; but how is the story to be told? Indeed, what really happened and what are the facts of her life? What of the mute Friday, sole witness to the events, whose tongue was cut out by marauding slavers? Or did Cruso commit the savage act? In England, she beseeches author Daniel Foe (sic to take the raw material and make a convincing narrative. How does art give life to experience, enliven it, make it vivid, memorable? The truth is sly, evasive; but the novelist closes in upon it with poetic precision to create a small, enigmatic work of art. We are pressed to see in the characters' relationships an allegory of the evil social order that poisons the author's native South Africa. (February)
Cast adrift by a mutinous crew, Susan Barton washes ashore on an isle of classic fiction. For the next year, Robinson Cruso sculpts the land while Friday mutely watches Susan intrude upon their loneliness. Life is mere pattern for the two unquestioning castaways, but Susan is not of their story and she pushes Cruso for rationales that don't exist in a world of imagination. Finally rescued and returned to London, Susan leads Friday to Daniel Foe, the author who will write their tale. Foe, however, sees a different story and seeks ``to tell the truth in all its substance.'' Discovering such truth is Coetzee's aim in Foe, an intriguing novel strikingly different from his earlier works. Here he scrutinizes the gulf between a story and its telling, giving us a thought-provoking text wonderfully rich in meaning and design. Paul E. Hutchison, English Dept., Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park
"A small miracle of a book...of marvelous intricacy and overwhelming power." --The Washington Post Book World"Foe is a finely honed testament to its author's intelligence, imagination, and skill.... The writing is lucid and precise, the landscape depicted mythic yet specific." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times