Waiting for the Barbarians


Reviewing and deconstructing this book are two very different things. And as with all the other Coetzee books I’ve read, there is a lot more to it than just the surface level story.

This relatively short book is a powerhouse of themes and symbology. But the overarching theme, I believe, is imperialism’s self-destructive power. I think this is pretty evident in the plotting and outcomes of the story. It also deals with power and empathy and injustice. Essentially the magistrate of the empire is empathetic of the barbarians, and in particular a woman who is left behind after an interrogation, and he takes her into his own care. As a result is convicted of treason, losing his position as magistrate of the oppressing power, therefore becoming oppressed by it. The novel is about the internal journey of the magistrate and his coming to terms with his own position within the empire.

This book has huge scope for understanding oppressive powers both in the context of their internal structure and their impacts on surrounding life. It it’s beautifully written (of course) and very insightful. It is one of those books you could deconstruct and write essay after essay on. Or one you could read for the main themes and story.

Overall a brilliant read, and highly recommended.