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Dusklands by J.M. Coetzee

Dusklands (original 1974; edition 1985)

by J.M. Coetzee

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371329,183 (3.36)36
Authors:J.M. Coetzee
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1985), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, novel, south-african

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Dusklands by J. M. Coetzee (1974)



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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 |
Dusklands is a work consisting of two independent narratives that are, nonetheless, so closely linked thematically that it is more appropriate to consider this one novel rather than two novellas.

"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 Dawn's opening remarks make it clear that his work has become his obsession, making him withdrawn, antisocial, and sexually dysfunctional.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. ( )
3 vote StevenTX | Feb 24, 2011 |
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140071148, Paperback)

In these two novellas he distils the absurdity and horror of scientific evangelism and heroic exploration united in a terrible marriage of destruction. By the author of "Life and Times of Michael K" winner of the Booker Prize.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This work contains two novellas. In the first, a specialist in psychological warfare is driven to murderous action by the stresses of a macabre project to win the Vietnam War, and in the second, a megalomaniac Boer frontiersman wreaks hideous vengeance on a Hottentot tribe.… (more)

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