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Dusklands by J. M. Coetzee

Dusklands (1974)

by J. M. Coetzee

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475433,876 (3.42)47
"A megalomaniac Boer frontiersman wreaks hideous vengeance on a Hottentot tribe for undermining the 'natural' order of his universe with their anarchic rival order, mocking him and subjecting him to the humiliations of his own all too palpable flesh. A specialist in psychological warfare is driven to breakdown and madness by the stresses of a project of macabre ingenuity to win the war in Vietnam. Both the 18th-century Jacobus Coetzee and the 20th-century Eugene Dawn are in the business of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and are dealers in death who denounce their own humanity and spurn their feelings of guilt. In these two narratives, Coetzee has crystallized in their absurdity and horror the extremes of scientific evangelism and heroic exploration"… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
J.M. Coetzee's "Dusklands" is actually two short novellas -- both fairly brutal portrayals of revenge. I struggled through the first, "The Vietnam Project" which was really dry and somewhat boring until the final act, while I found "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" far more interesting.

This was Coetzee's debut novel -- I wouldn't say I particularly enjoyed these works, I can certainly see, if this is where he started, why he would go on to be awarded a Pulizter later on.

I've read this really isn't a great introduction to his works so I perhaps started reading him with the wrong book. ( )
  amerynth | Jun 4, 2017 |
Brutal and upsetting. Too short novels about the violence inherent in colonialism and the misreading of cultures. Did I enjoy it? No. But would I read another? Hell, yes.

It's hard to believe that this was Coetzee's first book - it is very accomplished and elegant despite the subject matter. You can see where he draws from - Nabokov, Kafka, Beckett, yet he makes it his own. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Coetzee’s first novel Dusklands is a fairly short piece of work divided into two halves: an American military psychologist’s report on propaganda techniques being used in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, and a manuscript detailing a journey undertaken by fictional South African pioneer “Jacobus Coetzee” which descends into violence and blood-letting.

Like Coetzee’s future works, Dusklands is grim and depressing; an examination of dominion, colonialism and exploitation. Jacobus’ story is the more overtly oppressive of the two, and I actually think the book would have worked better if the narrative halves were switched; beginning with the violence of 18th century colonial South Africa, followed by the more subtle brutality of psychological warfare by foreign occupiers in Vietnam.

Coetzee’s writing, as always, is beautifully clear. His powerful, distinctive voice is evident even in this early novel. Dusklands contains some wonderful scenes – I particularly liked a description of Jacobus’ hunting party as described by the trail of litter, bullets and bodily fluids they left in their wake – and also some horrible, disturbing scenes. (Oddly enough, for all the violence in the book, nothing made me squirm more than a description of Jacobus attempting to pierce a pus-filled sore on his buttocks.) Dusklands is a strong first novel, and stands up well against the masterpieces that would follow it. ( )
  edgeworth | Sep 4, 2014 |
This is a book consisting of two novellas; the first works of Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee. Not the best introduction into his works… or so I’m told. But it was still a satisfying read.

The first story in the book is entitled ‘The Vietnam Project’ and is about Eugene Dawn, a writer researching the effectiveness of the United States propaganda warfare in Vietnam. It’s written in journal format and his report to his superior (Mr Coetzee) is also included. What starts off as a somewhat dry dissertation on propaganda and a schizophrenic’s insights into Vietnam culture, jumps abruptly into a twisted delusional direction… work can do that to some people… I know.

I thought the opening and closing lines were brilliant:

“My name is Eugene Dawn. I cannot help that. Here goes.”
“I have high hopes of finding whose fault I am.”

The second part of the book is called ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’. This work possessed a more straightforward narrative but, I felt, more brutally explored the nature of colonization and the power of prejudice.

Both works were a journey into power, or lack of power depending on which side of the line you were on... or color of skin. Not a great read, but definitely worth the time. I’ll be looking up more of Coetzee’s work.
( )
  Banoo | Apr 1, 2008 |
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