Friday, January 25, 2008


Last school year (’06-‘07) we had our 10th grade students read a book called “Disgrace” by Coetzee. He’s a weird South African writer who won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. The setting of the book is in Cape Town where he used to live; it’s about a professor at UCT who is disgraced because of an illicit affair. He’s a strange guy because he’s hyperaloof and doesn’t do interviews. His agent and publishing house finally agreed to one for him a few years back and a writer went to meet him in his home. After each question, Coetzee would pause for a long time and scribble notes about the question down on paper before answering in one ambiguous sentence. For instance, the interviewer asked about his book Foe and if he understood some of the meaning correctly. After scribbling, he only offered one sentence: “I would not wish to deny your reading.” This went on and on. An artist tells of story of going on a 3-day hike with Coetzee and a group, and Coetzee said not a word to anyone. Here’s another story:

“A friend of mine was an MA student of Coetzee’s. She had to deliver a paper to his home. As she approached the door, she noticed the blinds moving, but her ring remained unanswered for a long, long while. When she finally gave up and was walking away, she turned around to find the crocodile-eyed genius contemplating her implacably from a window. She became a lesbian, but I am not sure if there is any connection.”

I like Antjie Krog, who is mostly known for her poetry, but also writes fiction and children books. Antjie didn’t win a Nobel, but she’s good.

It’s interesting to me because South Africa, in some sense, has produced a few (2) Nobel Prize winners. There’s also Nadine Gordimer in ’91. She’s written about thirteen novels and some short story collections. Of course, by association she knows Coetzee. The government implied he was racist due to his book “Disgrace.” She sent him a congratulatory note and gave her own criticisms (she’s very opinionated). Her work isn’t read much in South Africa. In fact, more people have read Coetzee’s Disgrace than any of her books even though she won the prize back in ’91. She also told Coetzee that he should come back to South Africa (he left and moved to Australia a few years ago).

Funny thing is that she allowed a young Trini writer, Ronald Suresh Roberts, to write a biography of her. She withdrew her authorization of the book due to a disagreement over some content of the book her wrote. People think it’s because it was more personal than she intended. She doesn’t believe a writer’s personal life has anything to do with the writing; she says it doesn’t matter if Tolstoy’s wife didn’t like him as long as his books impacted people and sold.

Well, Jeannie met “Suresh” through a film-maker friend, Kahlo (sp?), who she was told to look up in Cape Town. He’s a bit funny because he, Suresh, was hired to write Mbeki’s biography, “Fit to Govern.” Suresh had a parting of ways with Anthony Brink, a lawyer who labels himself as the one to introduce Mbeki and the government to ideas that question the HIVàAIDS link and the efficacy of ARV’s. Anthony accused him of “pilfering” his research and “falsifying” Mbeki’s views on AIDS. It’s just strange because, though I hadn’t met him, I’m separated from him by 2 degrees of separation. I’m friends with a friend of his lawyer. According to my friend, Suresh’s arch enemy and his lawyer live TOGETHER. Very strange.

So there seems to be controversy about many of his writings as he does have strong views. Oppenheimer lawyers made him strike out 11 different comments from Mbeki’s biography that put Oppenheimer in a bad light saying things like his wealth came from the raping of Namibia (the library at UCT is named after Oppenheimer [the Oppenheimers are the beneficiaries of the De Beers wealth]).

Anyway, Jeannie and Haley are friends with this writer here in South Africa. And it makes me think about that theory of 6 degrees of separation. Suresh knows the president. So Jeannie and Haley are only separated from the president by 1 degree (some people call this two degrees since they know someone who knows the pres, but if you know the president you’re not separated so I call that 0 degrees of separation).

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