Waiting for the Barbarians

infobox Book |
name = Waiting for the Barbarians
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = J.M. Coetzee
cover_artist =
country = South Africa
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Secker & Warburg
release_date = 27 October 1980
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 156 pp (hardback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-436-10295-1 (hardback edition)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Waiting for the Barbarians" is a novel by the South African author J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. The novel was published in 1980 and is regarded as one of Coetzee's finest pieces of writing.Fact|date=February 2007 It was chosen by Penguin for their series "Great Books of the 20th Century" and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. American composer Philip Glass has also written an opera of the same name based on the book which premiered in September 2005 in Erfurt, Germany.

Explanation of the novel's title

It has been said that Coetzee took his title from the poem "Waiting for the Barbarians" by Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine P. Cavafy. [ Citation | last = Howe | first = Irving | author-link = Irving Howe| title = A STARK POLITICAL FABLE OF SOUTH AFRICA | newspaper = The New York Times| date = April 18, 1982| url = http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/11/02/home/coetzee-barbarians.html|accessdate =2007-12-30 Book Review Desk] [ [http://cavafis.compupress.gr/kave_32.htm "Waiting for the Barbarians"] . Constantine P. Cavafy. Retrieved May 27, 2008.] It may also be an allusion to Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot". Inspiration from Dino Buzzati's novel "The Tartar Steppe" is also evident, both for the title and the plot.

Plot summary

The story is set in small frontier town of a nameless empire. The town's magistrate is the story's main protagonist and narrator. His rather peaceful existence on the frontier comes to an end with the arrival of some special forces of the Empire, led by a sinister Colonel Joll. There are rumours that the barbarians are preparing an attack on the Empire, and so Colonel Joll and his men conduct an expedition into the land beyond the frontier. They capture a number of "barbarians," bring them back to town, torture them, kill some of them, and leave for the capital in order to prepare a larger campaign against the barbarians. In the meantime, the Magistrate becomes involved with a "barbarian girl" who was left behind crippled and blinded by the torturers. Eventually, he decides to take her back to her people. After a life-threatening trip through the barren land he succeeds in his objective and returns to his town. Shortly thereafter, the Empire's forces return and the Magistrate's own plight begins.

Coetzee is generally considered to be a postcolonial and postmodern writer who utilizes the nameless empire as an allegory. The magistrate is a figure searching for meaning on the outskirts of an unjust, cruel empire. His love for the barbarian girl is both paternalistic, fetishistic, and misguided. Ultimately, the magistrate learns he is too entrenched within his imperial breeding to make sense of the frontier (the plight of his own people and the barbarians).

Awards and nominations

After Coetzee won of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, "Waiting for the Barbarians" was chosen by Penguin Books for their series "Great Books of the 20th Century". The Nobel Prize committee called "Waiting for the Barbarians" "a political thriller in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, in which the idealist’s naivete opens the gates to horror".Fact|date=May 2008

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The opera by Philip Glass is based on Coetzee's book and Christopher Hampton's libretto adapts the story faithfully. The opera premiered on September 10, 2005, at the Theater of Erfurt, Germany, under the direction of Guy Montavon. The lead role of the Magistrate was sung by British baritone Richard Salter, Colonel Joll by American baritone Eugene Perry, who has starred in a number of Glass operas, and the barbarian girl by Elvira Soukop. The musical director of the premiere was Dennis Russell Davies. As Glass told journalists and the Erfurt audience at a matinée, he sees scary parallels between the opera's story and the Iraq War: a military campaign, scenes of torture, talk about threats to the Empire's peace and safety, but no proof. The Austin Lyric Opera performed the American premiere of "Waiting for the Barbarians" on January 19, 2007, conducted by Richard Buckley and under the direction of Guy Montavon, who was joined again by Richard Salter and Eugene Perry as the Magistrate and Colonel Joll, respectively.


External links

*ISBN 0-09-946593-0 (UK paperback, Virago)
* [http://cavafis.compupress.gr/kave_32.htm Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians"]

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