Book: Disgrace

Author: J M Coetzee

Rating: 4/5

Disgrace-J M Coetzee

David Lurie is a professor of romantic poetry at a university in Capetown. He has been divorced twice and lives alone. For fulfilling his carnal urges, he has an occasional fling with women, both known and unknown. He is also a regular at a brothel for some time. His uneventful life suddenly takes an unpredictable turn when he is brought to disgrace by his student Melanie Isaacs with whom he was having a flitting and lustful affair. David is forced to quit his job. He decides to visit his only daughter Lucy who is living alone at her farm in rural South Africa.

Within days, David becomes inexorably mixed up with her daughter's affairs in this small township. Lucy is gang raped by 3 natives out of communal hatred, her farm is ravaged and David is attacked.

The author then narrates a complex story of coping with disgrace- by Lucy and David.

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Social/Historical context:

The book, according to me, questions some age old notions of disgrace. While David falls to disgrace for allegedly violating a young girl, his daughter is brutally gang raped by 3 men who go scot-free. David's attraction towards Melanie is mostly sexual in nature. But David cares deeply for Melanie and wishes her well being. Yet, by the standards of David's society, he is judged guilty of a grave offense in establishing physical contact with his student. David is forced to forgo his livelihood and surrenders to a life of disgrace. “You have lost your job, your name is mud, your friends avoid you, you hide out in Torrance Road like a tortoise afraid to stick its neck out of its shell.”

On the other hand, Lucy, who is a lesbian, has been violently raped by 3 natives out of communal hatred. She has to pay a very high price for choosing to live a life of her own volition. She has been brought to disgrace because of this, while the perpetrators of this injustice are not brought to book. The rapists even exercise a moral high ground and exult over their exploit. The rapists are supported by their clan.

The stark difference in the fate of the disgraced and the disgracer throws open various questions on the meaning of disgrace, it's genesis and repercussion.


Writing Style:

Coetzee uses the direct narrative form where David Lurie depicts the sequence of events in his and his daughter's life. The language is straight forward, prosaic and conversational. The book should be very easy read for most.

My Thoughts:

I was profoundly impressed by this book. The author is very sensitive to his subject and is able to raise a lot of questions on 'Disgrace' with the clever use of perspectives. It is interesting to see how David's ex-wife, the farm help Petrus, Lucy, Lucy's close friends, Melanie's father and various such characters react to 'Disgrace'.

Thanks to Coetzee, this little researched subject of 'Disgrace' is brought to focus. The author tells us how Disgrace takes on various connotations in different societies, in various professions, in various age groups.....

Overall, a very complex topic handled beautifully.


Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha

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