Award-winning author previews his new novel

Josh Linehan

The prize-winning story of one man’s search for love and acceptance, set against the backdrop of racial turmoil in South Africa, was previewed Wednesday evening at the Weisman Art Museum, five days before the novel is available to readers.
The world-renowned author J.M. Coetzee read from his newest book, “Disgrace,” to an audience of 180 people. The book, which will go on sale in the United States on Monday, was recently awarded the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction.
It was the second Booker award for Coetzee, who also won for his “Life and Times of Michael K.” in 1983. Coetzee was the first-ever author to win two Booker awards. The Booker is the premier British award for fiction written in English.
Coetzee, a critically acclaimed author and political opponent of apartheid, has been teaching this semester at the University of Illinois-Chicago in the school of social thought.
Introducing Coetzee, Julie Schumacher, director of the creative writing department and head organizer of the event, spoke about her students’ reactions to the South African’s intricate works.
“They kept insisting it was different than everything else … different because it was full of ideas, they said, which they hadn’t expected,” Schumacher said.
Before his reading, Coetzee described the novel as “the story of a middle-aged academic who — through complete fault of his own — falls from grace.”
“Disgrace,” Coetzee’s eighth novel, tells the story of David Lurie, a 52-year-old professor in Cape Town, South Africa.
Lurie, twice divorced and in search of love, becomes despondent over his rejection at the hands of a prostitute. After a failed relationship with a student leaves him a pariah, he retreats to live with his daughter Lucy.
As Lurie tires to find meaning in his one remaining relationship, a society of new racial complexities adds to his confusion. An afternoon of violence changes him and his daughter forever, shaking his belief system to the core.
After his reading, Coetzee said he had been apprehensive but felt it was a success.
“Sometimes these work and sometimes they don’t. I can’t explain it, but tonight was one of those nights when it clicked,” Coetzee said.
Schumacher was very pleased with the reading.
“I think people were very receptive, and it was very well-attended. This is one of the best crowds we’ve ever had,” Schumacher said.
The reading was made possible through the University creative writing department in collaboration with St. Catherine’s University and Weisman.
Leslie Cooney, who helped organize the event, said the reading was the result of several coincidences.
“We had heard he was in Chicago and really took an off-chance by calling and asking him to read. It all happened very quickly,” Cooney said.
Diane Glancy, a local writer who attended the reading, said she became fascinated by Coetzee’s work after reading one of his earlier novels, “In the Heart of the Country.”
“I picked that book up and just couldn’t put it down,” Glancy said. “He’s the kind of writer who is just so energetic and focused that he draws you in.”
Glancy, who writes about Native American subjects, said she was fascinated by the political implications of Coetzee’s novels, which are mainly set in South Africa.
“I did not know a lot about South Africa, and I am very interested in indigenous peoples everywhere. He writes about something people need to know,” Glancy said.
The style of Coetzee’s work, Glancy said, lent itself beautifully to political novels.
“He sings instead of preaching. He lays out a story and invites the reader to enter. It’s an irresistible invitation,” Glancy said.

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected] He also can be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.