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Set in post-apartheid South Africa, J. M. Coetzee’s searing novel tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. However, when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.

220 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

J.M. Coetzee

151 books4,587 followers
John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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5 stars
28,916 (28%)
4 stars
41,146 (40%)
3 stars
23,464 (22%)
2 stars
6,840 (6%)
1 star
2,474 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,818 reviews
Profile Image for J.
80 reviews151 followers
March 13, 2009
   This book made me want to read Twilight. Yes, Twilight: perfectly perfect young people falling in love and never growing old. God, I hope that’s what’s in store for me there. I need an antidote to Disgrace.
   It affected me more than I thought it could, in ways I hadn’t imagined possible. At page ten I would have readily given it five stars; the writing is superb. Halfway through I’d have given it four. Excellent, but slightly annoying. At the moment I finished it, shouting “WHAT?? What the hell kind of ending is THAT???” and wondering if I was going into shock, I’d have demanded stars back for ruining my life. A little distance was needed before I could consider it rationally again.

   The word disgrace is what struck me with nearly every page. Coetzee’s writing is like that. Tight. There’s no escaping what he wants you to see. It’s not outrageously blatant, but it’s none too subtle either. It’s good. So good you might be tempted to revel in it. Do not. This is not for the faint-hearted. Run. Read something easy, something happy. Anything. If you stay Coetzee will turn that word, disgrace, in your mind a hundred different ways. I’m no stranger to the word. I have been a disgrace, been disgraced, disgraced myself and others. Seriously. I thought I was immune to it.
   The main character, David Lurie, is disgraced. Big deal. He disgraces a student. Yeah, I’m familiar with that. She’ll live. He is a disgrace. Yes, clearly. David Lurie is entering the disgrace of growing old. That’s where Coetzee has me.
   I can’t find it in me to despise Lurie. He’s a Lothario and possibly worse (“She does not own herself. Beauty does not own itself.”), but I don’t have to live with him. Then there’s the sharp intelligence with too little empathy or emotion to make it truly sing. The bare objectiveness. He claims to have lost ‘the lyrical’ within himself, but it’s doubtful he ever had it. He’s a pretender. I’m amused by the fact that he, a professor of language, begins the affair that causes his public fall from grace by quoting Shakespeare’s first sonnet. The words apply as much to himself as to anyone. But self-delusion is my own stock-in-trade. I can’t condemn him for that. I don’t love him either. I feel as dispassionate as Lurie himself. The disgrace of the dying though - the 'without grace' – that younger generations foist upon them. That they’re made to feel as intruders in life, burdensome. This is where Coetzee hooks me. And he reels me in. Reels me in until I find myself suffocating in a world I want no part of. A world of shame, dishonor, humiliation, degradation. Disgrace. That of a man, a father, a daughter, a woman, an unborn child. Now make those plural. Add the disgraces of South Africa, of humanity, of animals. Yes, animals. I suspected Coetzee would sneak in a little commentary on that. He has a reputation. I did not expect to be so affected by it. I, a confirmed carnivore, did not expect to lie awake at night considering vegetarianism. Coetzee brings that passionate quote at the beginning of this paragraph back to hit me square in the face near the end though and – once again – Disgrace.

   So five stars, but would I recommend it? I’m still not sure. Read it if you dare. Coetzee is brilliant.

Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
November 27, 2018
To begin with, let me make something clear: J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace left me intellectually fulfilled and severely shocked. Fulfilled at the simplicity and beauty of its narrative which resulted in a powerful drama; shocked at the impact it had on my innermost self. This is not a book for the faint-hearted. If you lack faith in your fortitude, do not even start, read something easier. But that would be a pity, for you would be deprived of an experience that will only enrich your understanding of the world. If you stay, Coetzee will grant you a masterpiece. And there have been some moments of genuine awe in my reading experiences, but I can without any trace of doubt testify that reading Coetzee is always one of them.

Disgrace follows David Lurie’s fall from grace, a professor of poetry and communications, that is unable to fit in a tormented post-apartheid South Africa. David clashes with the University’s politically correct environment as well as with the land dispute barbarism in the country’s interior, where his daughter lives.

With an immaculate prose, in which no word is wasted, the novel is a plunge into a society lacerated by poverty, criminality and a social conduct values deadlock. Disgrace is a work of art, rare nowadays: that that refuses simple explanations, which reinvents and enriches reality.
“But the truth, he knows, is otherwise. His pleasure in living has been snuffed out. Like a leaf on a stream, like a puffball on a breeze, he has begun to float towards his end. He sees it quite clearly, and it fills him with (the word will not go away) despair. The blood of life is leaving his body and despair is taking its place, despair that is like a gas, odourless, tasteless, without nourishment. You breathe it in, your limbs relax, you cease to care, even at the moment when the steel touches your throat.”
At 52, twice divorced, David is solitary, resigned, erudite and sarcastic. He does not care for the disinterest of his students show his poetry classes.
“He continues to teach because it provides him with a livelihood; also because it teaches him humility, brings it home to him who he is in the world. The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing.”
He contemplates writing an opera on Lord Byron, but always postpones the project. He believes to have “solved the problem of sex rather well”: on Thursdays afternoons he visits a prostitute that could be his daughter, pays what he owes her and has the right to the oasis of one and half hours of his continuous and dreary mundane existence.

In what is to come, he will face a brutal reality, made of vengeance, banditry, submission. Brutality against which occidental culture is simply worthless: “He speaks Italian, speaks French, but Italian and French are useless to him in Black Africa”.

J.M. Coetzee builds in Disgrace flesh and blood characters and, through them, weaves relationships between classes, between men and women, between parents and children, black and white, between a long exploration history and a present of explosive resentments.

Situated in nobody's land, where civilization and barbary mingle - a region well known by Brazilian readers, Coetzee slowly denudes realities and ultimately tells us that there are no just rewards, there are not even fairness.
“'How humiliating, ' he says finally. 'Such high hopes, and to end like this.'
'Yes, I agree, it is humiliating. But perhaps that is a good point to start from again. Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but... With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity.'
‘Like a dog.'
'Yes, like a dog.'"
Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,118 followers
November 2, 2022
‘Perhaps it does us good to have a fall every now and then. As long as we don’t break’.

Professor David Lurie is forced to resign when his affair with a student comes to light. His resignation and the humiliations he gets to swallow as a parent burn chinks in his cynical armour and self-image. By volunteering in a veterinary clinic, his indifference to man and animal gradually gives way to empathy. Disgrace deals with the human inability to communicate effectively and with the uncertain relations between black and white in post-apartheid South Africa. Coetzee writes soberly and compactly. He aptly records the wry horror of raw physical and psychological violence.

Disgrace hits like a sledgehammer, but results in a catharsis that one doesn't forget lightly. A staggering book.


(Willie Bester, Transition, 1994)

Misschien is het goed voor ons om af en toe te vallen. Zo lang we maar niet breken.

Professor David Lurie ziet zich gedwongen ontslag te nemen als zijn affaire met een studente aan het licht komt. Zijn ontslag en de vernederingen die hij als ouder te slikken krijgt, slaan barsten in zijn cynische pantser en zelfbeeld. Door zijn vrijwilligerswerk in een dierenkliniek maakt zijn onverschilligheid voor mens en dier geleidelijk plaats voor empathie. In ongenade handelt over het menselijke onvermogen tot werkelijke communicatie en over de onzekere verhoudingen tussen blank en zwart in het Zuid-Afrika van na de apartheid. Coetzee schrijft sober en compact. Hij registreert trefzeker de wrange gruwel van rauw fysiek en psychisch geweld.

In ongenade komt aan als een mokerslag, maar resulteert in een catharsis die je niet licht vergeet. Een onthutsend boek.
Profile Image for Candi.
621 reviews4,709 followers
April 12, 2017
I finished this book a little over a week ago and for the first time I couldn’t decide how to rate a book, much less write a review about it. So here I am still mulling it over, reading through my notes and trying to type some sort of articulate thoughts into my laptop. I don’t really think I ‘liked’ Disgrace. I respected the writing; it made me think … a lot. I had trouble finding any beauty in it; and I think that is where the problem lies with this book for me. If a book touches me emotionally, or if I learn something by reading it, then I can truly say I loved it. However, the only real emotion I felt was anger if anything else. I didn’t really learn much – except that unfortunately maybe I am correct in that life can be really crummy at times and people sometimes unpleasant or in some cases downright despicable. How does one get into a state of disgrace and is it possible to move back into a state of grace afterwards? Perhaps.

Professor David Lurie is a man I disliked right from the start. "… a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it." Okay, there’s that. And then there is the fact that he has an affair with one of his students, a young woman that could be his own daughter, who is in fact younger than his daughter, Lucy. This is where I had some trouble – raising my own daughter that is still school-age and under the influence of her own teachers and others that have positions of ‘power’ over her – this perhaps makes me a poor audience for this book! When David is faced with harassment charges, he will fall into a state of disgrace. But what exactly does disgrace mean to David? He has no regrets for what he has done. He says to Lucy, "One can punish a dog, it seems to me, for an offence like chewing a slipper. A dog will accept the justice of that: a beating for a chewing. But desire is another story. No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts." Disgrace to him is not loss of his job, loss of respect, or loss of face. Rather for him it is the process of aging, losing that magnetism that attracts others, even perhaps not leaving behind a legacy for which he can be proud. When David leaves Cape Town to stay with Lucy in Salem in the Eastern Cape of post-apartheid South Africa, he will have time to ponder the state of disgrace and all of its inherent meanings. Lucy and David do not see eye to eye, but I have to give David some credit for trying to understand his daughter and the life she has made for herself on her farm and with the animals under her care. When violence erupts and becomes personal, David is placed in a position that prompts even further self-reflection.

Much of this book is uncomfortable and harsh. There may be triggers for those that are distressed by cruelty to both animals and people, so I want to note that warning here. Coetzee did manage to make me side with David and pull for him partway through the book. I couldn’t really understand Lucy – I felt sympathy for her but her actions troubled me and left me feeling a bit hopeless. I’m not thoroughly convinced that David will transform, but I can envision the opportunity; I will continue to hope for that state of grace. As far as a rating, well I’ve finally settled on 3.5. The book is extremely well-written; no doubt about that. However, based on my own personal reaction to the book, I have to rate accordingly. I wouldn’t turn anyone away from this book (with the exception of the possible triggers noted above), but note that negative emotions got the best (or should I say worst) of me this time around.
Profile Image for Pakinam Mahmoud.
810 reviews3,469 followers
August 28, 2023
wow..what a novel!
الخزي..الاحساس بالعار..أصعب إحساس ممكن أي حد يحس بيه..
الرواية بتتكلم عن دكتور جامعي أقام علاقة جنسية مع طالبة عنده ومع ذلك هو رافض يعترف إنه غلطان او إنه حتي لازم يتغير بل بالعكس هو بيبرر أفعاله علي إنها غريزة إنسانية طبيعية..

"إن قضيتي ترتكز علي حق الشهوة،علي الرب الذي يجعل حتي أصغر طائر يرتعش..!
لست مضطرا إلي أن أصبح إنساناً أفضل..لست مستعداً للاصلاح اريد أن أبقي كما أنا..!"

الرواية في أحداثها بتتكلم عن العنصرية في جنوب أفريقيا بطريقة غير مباشرة وكمان بتسلط الضوء علي أنواع مختلفة من الخزي..إحساسك بالعار مش لازم يكون نتيجة غلطتك إنت، ممكن تكون ضحية شخص آخر ومع ذلك تحس بالعار.. زي الست اللي بتتعرض للاغتصاب مثلاً..

أعتقد إن كويتزي عاوز يقولنا إن كلنا ممكن في فترة من حياتنا نحس بالخزي لأسباب كتير، سواء كنا غلطانين أو لأ..بس المهم إننا مش لازم نستسلم ولا ندفن راسنا في الرملة..
"إن ما لا يقتل..يقوّي.."
رواية مش كبيرة في عدد صفحاتها ..تقيلة في محتواها ..مؤلمة وممتعة جداً في قرائتها..

القراءة التانية لكويتزي بعد ' في إنتظار البرابرة' و يبدو كدة إن سنة الكورونا بالنسبة لي حتكون سنة إكتشاف الكُتاب المتميزين جداً اللي كويتزي أكيد واحد منهم...
corona is not that bad after all;)

"كم هو مُذلّ ولكن لعلها تكون نقطة بداية جيدة لعل هذا ما ينبغي علي أن أتعلم بقبوله.. أن أبدأ من الصفر..بدون أي شئ..بلا خيارات ولا ملكية ولا حقوق ولا كرامة..!"
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
April 8, 2017
Update: $1.99 Kindle special today ..... for those who can handle reading this book .... the writing - and story gets inside you and doesn't leave quickly.

"Disgrace" is a perfect title.

David Laurie, professor, father, divorced, (twice married), jobless after and inappropriate affair, temporary farmworker, is a 'disgrace'.

David dips into a downfall transgression with himself and his daughter, Lucy.
Racial tensions run high....violence is on the rise....brutal.....in South Africa. ( and this was post apartheid). .....
It was easier for me to understand the "disgrace-of-David".....than it was for me to understand Lucy's train of thought after the horrific things that happened to her.

Step into Africa with J.M. Coetzee.....complex, controversial, personal & political.....
Choices to cringe over ....yet compassion is circulating in our thoughts.

Powerful --- winner of the 1999 Booker Prize

*note.... readers who are extremely sensitive to animals abuse, may not want to read this --- or skip over parts.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
August 28, 2019

This short novel, written in spare, economical prose, tells the story of a not particularly likable middle-aged Capetown college instructor who falls into "disgrace" because of an affair with a student and is soon reduced to living with his daughter in the bush and working as a euthanizer at the local animal shelter. A violent incident occurs, and "disgrace" takes on another meaning.

The novel is both merciless and compassionate (not an easy combination to achieve), and is also incisive in its portrayal of the changing world of South Africa.
Profile Image for Ben.
74 reviews976 followers
May 6, 2010
This could have been the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt while reading a novel. The issues and themes addressed are those that are immersed in the sensitive, pitch-black parts of my insides. And it didn’t relent; not once did it get easier. It was painful to keep going, yet I was gripped and couldn’t stop.

Mining through our darker spirits is not pleasurable. Looking at the world and its sickness, and feeling some of its constant, inherent pain is no easier. But when these merge together, a glorifying truth is present; one we train ourselves to avoid in order to make life easier. But to read Disgrace intently and honestly is to not have a choice in these matters, and the reward is a realness and truth found in very few novels. Your own moral inadequacies are dug up and looked at directly, as is your culture; your race; your generation; your values; your guilts; and your sense of justice. Your way of life gets shaken.

Yet the general state of all life, as a whole, is exposed. Because people are weak and corrupt, life for the individual wavers in many ways. But life itself, with all its beings -- put together with nature, the earth, and all it entails -- is solid and ongoing. Life is still. Life is indifferent. The meat of existence is unbending and immovable. And it goes on.....
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,719 followers
November 25, 2017
A savage, ruthless book.

At the onset of this 1999 Booker winner, I thought I was reading the story of 52 year old Capetown romantics poetry professor David Lurie, who has an affair with a student over thirty years his junior. I was in awe of the storytelling, of how Coetzee was able to show much by saying little, about the two sides of that affair.

Lurie, a man who identifies as a Byron-esque lover, who has been twice divorced and who enjoys the services of prostitutes, isn't exactly likeable. Especially when he has the opportunity to save his career by simply issuing an apology, but doesn't, on principle. His hubris is cold and unwavering.

I thought the book would revolve around his fall from grace after being forced to resign from his position. I guess it is, in a small part, but the book really begins after taking what seems like a wild left turn into the remote countryside of South Africa, where Lurie’s daughter Lucy lives. It’s a whole other world - a world that buzzes with danger.

This 1990’s post-Apartheid South Africa is a seething place, certainly unsafe for a white lesbian woman alone on a farm. A terrible attack occurs, fuelled by hatred.

So yes, it is a story about disgrace - but Coetzee casts his net far wider than an aging philanderer who abuses his position of power and loses face in the academic community. It is more about the disgrace of rape. The disgrace of misogyny. The disgraceful violence, resulting from Apartheid.

It also touches on the father/daughter relationship, generational gaps, and what one is prepared to lose for one's principles. It is about aging, loss of virility, and death. And I haven’t even discussed the animals - those poor, poor dogs. All in 220 pages (what IS it with the powerful, short novels I’ve been reading this month?!).

I am disturbed by the brutality of life in this part of the world. I’m even more disturbed by how Lucy reacts to it. She refuses to leave the farm after the attack. Transformed into a walking dead, she is at the mercy of her attackers, becoming a peasant in the fields she once mastered. I wasn't a fan of David Lurie, womanizer, objectifier, general dick-head. But I found myself pleading along with him, begging his daughter to choose something else for her life. Instead, she loses herself, laying down in submission, much like a dog undergoing euthanasia.

I’m shattered by the way that Lucy lays down like a dead dog, whether it is in general terms as a woman in subjugation to the violence of men, or whether it is a political illustration of how white South Africans of this time laid down to take their punishment, a retribution for the sins of their fathers. Coetzee is merciless in his depictions, pointing an accusing finger. It’s shocking, unacceptable. A complete DISGRACE.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
April 4, 2017
I read Disgrace by Nobel Laureate J M Coetzee with a few friends in the group reading for pleasure. A winner of the Man Booker Prize, Disgrace also fulfills the Nobel Laureate square on my classics bingo card. All of Coetzee's novels have received multiple awards or prizes, and Disgrace is the first of his novels that I have read. Although short in length, this introduction reveals to me the brilliance of Coetzee's writing.

David Lurie is a fifty two year old professor of communications at Cape Town Technical University. Having been divorced twice and struggling to get inspired by his courses, Lurie engages in one affair after another with either prostitutes or women passing through town. Lurie's last affair left a bad taste in his mouth, and for the first time he decided to sleep with a student. Although this is hardly unheard of, Lurie is caught and forced to resign his position. In the throes of both a scandal and midlife crisis, he moves in with his grown daughter Lucy.

A child of the city, Lucy has decided to live in a rural farming community on the eastern cape. A young, determined woman of the younger generation, Lucy allows her father into her homestead but from the onset it is obvious that she would rather be left alone. The generation gap is evident as she calls her father by his first name and does not bestow any respect on him. Determined to do a better job as a parent as a middle aged man, Lurie feels the inherent need to parent Lucy at this trying time for both of them.

Coetzee's writing delves into what an affair and a rape is like for both the man and the woman, across lines of race and class. Set in post apartheid South Africa, it is evident that blacks are still struggling in their relations with whites and feel the need to turn the tables on them. Likewise, the younger generation that Lucy is a part of also does not see a need for white male protection. In striving to erase these lines, Coetzee writes in third person and refers to all characters, even in passing, by their first names. He treats all his persona with the same respect regardless of age, gender, or class, even the animals at the clinic where Lucy and later David work. As a result, as a reader, I am able to feel empathy for all of the characters, even the stubborn ones like Lucy and the disgraced David.

For an introduction to Coetzee, Disgrace is a poignant novel. After reading only women authors during women's history month, it was refreshing to read a novel written by a male author that shows empathy toward strong women characters. The writing is powerful and deserving of its praise. I am now inspired to read more of Coetzee in the future to see firsthand the work that merited him the Nobel Prize. Solid 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Nate.
508 reviews48 followers
January 9, 2013
ummm...no. I'm afraid for me, this book suffers from what I call the Booker disease. I've read very few books that won the Man Booker prize that I've enjoyed.

--------SPOILERS AHOY AHOY-----------------------
I looked through the GoodReads comments concerning this book and saw a lot of positive feedback. But not one of those comments talked about Coetzee's horrible dialogue. All of his characters speak like a phlebotomy textbook, and they are all just an obvious soundboard for the author's opinions. What's the point of making an idea a piece of fiction if the author just uses all of the characters to spout off his views on rape, class, prostitution? There were no distinctions in tone or vocabulary between the characters. I think his points would have been better taken if he had just let the characters work out the issues themselves and not filled them with political rants. I felt nothing for David, or Lucy, or Bev - the only emotive element that haunted me was the killing of the dogs every week. The author sets his narrator on fire and the dogs are the only thing that got me.

For a better book about South Africa, try The Power of One. For a better discussion of the effects of rape try Bastard Out of Carolina or The Color Purple. For a less heavy handed discussion of class and morality, try The Human Stain or On Beauty.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo (away on an island).
2,189 reviews1,813 followers
January 11, 2021

John Malkovic è il professore David Lurie, e Jessica Haines è sua figlia Lucy nel film di Steve Jacobs del 2008.

Qual è la vera vergogna, chi la commette, chi dovrebbe provarla?
Devono vergognarsi anche le vittime?
La ragione non sta mai da una parte sola.

La storia di David Lurie, professore di Poesia Romantica in una qualche università di Cape Town, con la sua studentessa è uno stupro? Il prof si è avvantaggiato della sua posizione e del suo carisma, ma ha davvero commesso violenza?


Una violenza pari a quella dei tre ragazzi di colore?
Eppure, anche loro sembrano avere giustificazioni: la segregazione razziale non si cancella con la spugna, la povertà esiste, la rabbia la violenza la voglia di vendetta prosperano in condizioni repressive e razziste, la miseria non è un punto di vista, uno dei tre ragazzi è perfino mentalmente disturbato: basta questo a spiegare, ad assolverli?


Il professore appare fastidiosamente altezzoso e arrogante, però sa restare accanto alla figlia che sembra aver fatto una scelta molto irragionevole e dalle conseguenze tutt’altro che semplici: quest’uomo è davvero così superbo e borioso come i suoi colleghi lo dipingono e percepiscono?
David Lurie è incapace di difendere la figlia, è debole e vigliacco come anche la figlia Lucy sembra pensare, oppure la violenza che subisce, il tentativo di dargli fuoco, spiega il suo non intervento?

I tre stupratori uccidono anche i cani in gabbia. I neri vedevano nei cani il simbolo del potere bianco, della repressione che dovevano subire.
Basta a motivare l’odiosa gratuita carneficina?

Possiamo spiegare questo magnifico romanzo di Coetzee come una parabola del Sudafrica post-apartheid?


Coetzee non è uno scrittore per chi ama i punti fermi più dei punti interrogativi, per chi preferisce le risposte alle domande: senza pregiudizio, scrivendo tre parole e cancellandone quattro, scopre le responsabilità di ciascun personaggio, rovescia ogni violenza e ogni vergogna.
Per capire le ragioni dell'altro bisogna dimenticare, mettere da parte almeno per un poco le proprie - solo così potremo concederci di arrivare al giudizio.

Ma a quel punto, ci renderemo conto dell'inutilità del giudizio.
Ci renderemo conto di essere abbandonati al nostro destino.

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews37 followers
May 11, 2022
Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace is a novel by J. M. Coetzee, published in 1999. David Lurie is a South African professor of English who loses everything: his reputation, his job, his peace of mind, his dreams of artistic success, and finally even his ability to protect his own daughter. He is twice-divorced and dissatisfied with his job as a 'communications' lecturer, teaching a class in romantic literature at a technical university in Cape Town in post-apartheid South Africa.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هجدهم ماه آوریل سال2006میلادی

عنوان: رسوایی؛ نویسنده: جی. ام. کوتسی؛ مترجم: حسن بلیغ؛ تهران، نشر آگرا؛ سال1383؛ در285ص؛ شابک9649325980؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان افریقای جنوبی - سده20م

عنوان: رسوایی؛ نویسنده: جی. ام. کوتسی؛ مترجم: محسن مینوخرد؛ تهران، نشر چشمه؛ سال1387؛ در289ص؛ شابک 9789643625351؛

کتاب «رسوایی» داستان زندگی استاد میان‌سال زبان و ادبیات انگلیسی دانشگاهی در شهر «کیپ تاون» آفریقای جنوبی‌» است که به‌‌ خاطر رابطه‌ ی جنسی با یکی از دانشجویان دختر کلاسش بدنام می‌شود و کارش به رسوایی می‌کشد؛ «دیوید لوری» در زندگی دو بار ازدواج کرده اما هر دو بار هم شکست خورده و از هر دو همسرش جدا شده است، از همسر نخستین خویش که «هلندی» بوده، دختری به نام «لوسی» دارد؛ به همین خاطر اوایل رمان، هر پنج‌شنبه به یکی از خانه‌های عمومی شهر می‌رود و به‌سان مشتری وفاداری سراغ اتاق شماره‌ ی یکصد و سیزده را می‌گیرد و در مقابل پرداخت اندک پولی، نیاز خود را برطرف می‌کند.

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 08/04/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 20/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 22, 2018
Listen. I decided I do not want to read stories written by men about men who are misogynistic pieces of shit and also rapists. I can and will happily go without the pretentious literary value these books want to teach me.
Profile Image for Warwick.
841 reviews14.6k followers
October 11, 2017
David Lurie, 52, professor, seduces a student. ‘Not rape,’ we are told, ‘not quite that, but undesired nevertheless.’ The girl's name, Melanie, means black. The power dynamic between them, the disparity of authority, is foregrounded.

Later, Lurie's daughter is raped by intruders, and violently. She is white; her assailants – three of them – are black. We are in South Africa.


David is forced out of his position at the university for his ‘undesired’ liaison. An investigating committee asks him to issue a statement of contrition and regret, but he refuses to do so on principle. He insists on accepting his due punishment. He insists on what he calls his ‘freedom to remain silent’.

Later, David's daughter refuses to report her rape. She refuses to take medical precautions. She refuses to seek vengeance against one of the men when she sees him in the neighbourhood. She, too, insists on remaining silent. She, too, bases this on a moral principle.


Apartheid was in force in South Africa from 1948 to 1991. This book, published in 1999, is set after apartheid has ended.

There are many animals in this book. The way people talk about animals sounds a lot like the way that white South Africans once talked openly about black South Africans. ‘By all means let us be kind to them,’ Lurie comments. ‘But let us not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from the animals. Not higher, necessarily, but different.’


What is the moral of these correspondences (which I write down here only to order my thoughts, not to elucidate the book's point)? The answer is the novel, and it can't helpfully be further distilled. What makes Disgrace so impressive is precisely that it is no simple allegory, but rather a series of dynamics that echo and echo against each other in painful and confusing ways.

Lurie's employers talk primly about the undesirability of ‘mixing power relations with sexual relations’. But Coetzee suggests that the two might be – if not quite synonymous, at least tightly bound together. He writes about sex in an extraordinary way: unsentimentally, even anti-sentimentally, to the point of misanthropy. Libido is described in terms of

complex proteins swirling in the blood, distending the sexual organs, making the palms sweat and voice thicken and the soul hurl its longings to the skies. That is what [Lurie's regular prostitute] and the others were for: to suck the complex proteins out of his blood like snake-venom, leaving him clear-headed and dry.

Lurie's daughter, who is gay, addresses the link between sex and violence directly, in a monologue that is the more shocking for her tone of calm, dispassionate analysis:

‘Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting. You are a man, you ought to know. When you have sex with someone strange – when you trap her, hold her down, get her under you, put all your weight on her – isn't it a bit like killing? Pushing the knife in; exiting afterwards, leaving the body behind covered in blood – doesn't it feel like murder, like getting away with murder?’

Jesus. Coetzee's words hit like whiplash. And they are very carefully chosen, despite an expressed conviction in the novel that ‘English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa’.

Only the monosyllables can still be relied on, and not even all of them.

This is a very grown-up book (it reminded me a lot of Max Frisch's Homo Faber). But it isn't a hopeless one – it expresses confusion, anger, and sometimes despair, but also a certain sense of searching that at least imagines a different future. Perhaps, as one of the characters thinks, it is necessary, in order to build something up, for everything to be first brought down to nothing. For that, you need disgrace. And Coetzee offers that to everyone in the book – and everyone reading it.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,441 followers
August 2, 2023
„După o anumită vîrstă, nu există decît pedeapsă” (p.194).

Menționez în grabă că am recitit acest roman sumbru fără plăcere, minunîndu-mă de psihologia contorsionată a personajelor (profesorul David Lurie de la o universitate din Cape Town și Lucy, fiica lui lesbiană), cu siguranța că este o carte notabilă de vreme ce un conclav de savanți a estimat că e vorba de cel mai bun roman scris în engleză de un non-american, în intervalul 1980-2005. Îndrăznesc, totuși, să am o altă opinie.

În opinia mea, personajele se comportă absurd. Faptele lor contrazic toate așteptările cititorului și orice psihologie normală. Lucy e violată, dar refuză să-i acuze pe făptuitori și să anunțe poliția. Își pierde ferma și nu simte nici cel mai mic regret, cade într-un soi de somnolență. Prin resemnare, Lucy devine un personaj inert, o întruchipare a pasivității, trupul ei s-a golit de suflet. Nici David Lurie nu e mai logic. După ce are o legătură cu o studentă, Melanie Isaacs, refuză să-și ceară iertare de la părinții ei. Asta ar rezolva cazul, și-ar păstra postul. Dar profesorul e străpînit de un acces inutil de orgoliu și demisionează. Se retrage la fiica lui. Peste un timp, se răzgîndește, îi caută pe părinții fetei, îngenunchează în fața lor și le cere iertare (scena amintește de Dostoievski). E absolvit de păcat, dar asta nu-i folosește la nimic. Se întoarce la adăpostul pentru cîini, unde a cunoscut-o pe meticuloasa Bev Shaw. În acest punct, firul narativ se rupe...

Dintre toate cărțile prozatorului sud-african (locuiește acum în Australia), prefer, desigur, Așteptîndu-i pe barbari.

P. S. Într-un comentariu, am găsit această explicație pentru refuzul lui Lucy de a merge la poliție și de a-i denunța pe violatori: „Ea pare să înțeleagă ceea ce David nu poate aproba: că pentru a rămîne acolo trebuie să tolereze brutalitatea și umilirea, ca o ispășire pentru ofensele și cruzimile albilor față de negri”. Explicația nu m-a convins. Nu cred în vinovății universale.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews900 followers
February 10, 2017
It’s a little-known fact (where “fact” is understood in the contemporary, alternative sense) that the title of this book was originally an acronym that Coetzee used as a guide for writing it:

Dishonor-Inducing Sex & Glaring Racial Antipathy Corroding Emotions

David Lurie, a white South African professor in his fifties, had taught communications and poetry in Cape Town. An ill-advised affair with a student spoiled all that. David sought refuge with his daughter Lucy who experienced some conflicts of her own living in the country’s interior. With its setting in post-apartheid South Africa, a race angle was virtually inevitable. I have to say, the emotions packed a real punch, including some you don’t see coming. As far as I know, Disney had no role in producing the movie version of this raw and hard-edged book. Despite the lack of uplift, I did appreciate the writing and the plausibility of the angst. Evidently, the Booker committee did, too, since they gave this one their fiction prize in 1999.

This has been another entry in the KISS series -- Keep It Short, Steve. Note that “Steve” itself is an acronym:

Severely Testing Every Visitor’s Equanimity
Profile Image for Lea.
119 reviews441 followers
April 1, 2021
“Yet we cannot live our daily lives in a realm of pure ideas, cocooned from sense-experience. The question is not, How can we keep the imagination pure, protected from the onslaughts of reality? The question has to be, Can we find a way for the two to coexist?”

Raw, sharp, brave, soul-scattering, brilliant. Coetzee said a lot in a condensed, 220-page novel. The style reminds me of Salinger's in Nine Stories. Through live memorable imagery there is conveyed a lot of inner world, moral, ethical and political issues without dense or complicated language, written in a very readable form, with laser precision, balanced, smooth, no word wasted. Writing is so good you don't even notice it as you become immersed in the story. I was very similarly shocked and devastated after reading Nine stories, as they are unforgettable as Disgrace is. Gods of showing not telling.
The subjectivity of one's experience and self-delusion as central parts of the novel are visible in the sarcastic opening sentence.

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.”

Everything lies in the open, but not everything is said. As J.D. Salinger, Coetzee says even more with the unsaid than with what is written. He also writes violence with such dignity and contemporary writers could learn a lesson from him on how to write about brutality in a meaningful, not pornographic way with unnecessary details of molestation. The imagery of violence is strong yet subtle and described aggression serves as a window to geopolitical, social, race, gender complex issues and deep psychological and existential conflicts considering sexuality, identity, meaning and death. Coetzee does not shy away even from most forbidden taboo topics, from animal violence to incestuous connotations and aggressive deep end of sex drive.

“Hatred . . . When it comes to men and sex, David, nothing surprises me any more. Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting. You are a man, you ought to know. When you have sex with someone strange - when you trap her, hold her down, get her under you, put all your weight on her - isn't it a killing? Pushing the knife in; exiting afterwards, leaving the body behind covered in blood - doesn't it feel like murder, like getting away with murder?”

The story is open for interpretation but ironically, you feel there is no interpretation needed. The reading experience alone shifts the perspective of the world on a new level. This book is well-loved and I see why, it is a masterpiece that serves as an axe on a frozen sea.
David is both piteous and repulsive as oftentimes we are to ourselves in our deepest hidden desires. He is immature, regressive, delusional, maladjusted, yet, evokes empathy. The perpetrator becomes a victim in the endless suffering cycle of life. In fragments of the story of each human life, there is the history of the land and political and social dynamic embedded, as the context of post-apartheid Africa veils and very much defines tension in the main characters' lives.

“The reason is that as far as I am concerned, what happened to me is a purely private matter. In another time, in another place it might be held to be a public matter. But in this place, in this time, it is not. It is my bussines, mine alone.
'This place being what?'
'This place being South Africa”

Sometimes only the shock of violence in the outer world can open our eyes to our own and set us on a transcendental journey. Coetzee holds a mirror not only to us, but to the soul of humanity, and disgrace is universal.

“Perhaps it does us good to have a fall every now and then. As long as we don’t break.“
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews760 followers
February 14, 2020
I don't think if someone described the plot of this book to me I would think that this is a book that I would enjoy yet here we are. I'm not sure how to even explain what about this book appeals to me. I think it's that the writing felt really wonderful and every word felt meaningful and right. I can't stand overly verbose prose and nothing about this felt this way. I think I also just really enjoy flawed characters, and David, the main character, clearly has his flaws. I just enjoyed the humanizing way we see David grapple with his faults and limits, and his disposition towards romanticism and passion are things I can also empathize with. It's just one of those times where I've read a book and everything I've read felt like it added it to the book and just the writing and characters were so human and easy to embody when reading. I really really enjoyed this one.

Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,789 followers
May 25, 2013

It's admirable, what you do, what she does, but to me animal-welfare people are a bit like Christians of a certain kind. Everyone is so cheerful and well-intentioned that after a while you itch to go off and do some raping and pillaging. Or to kick a cat.

At the beginning, it appears pretty easy:

- To hate David Lurie.
- To take Coetzee’s writing for granted.
- To assume that everything would fall in its right or may be wrong place.
- To anticipate a letdown feeling by just another Booker prize novel.
- To learn the same old lessons we have confronted since the original sin was committed.
- To read another long-winded definition of Disgrace.

But talent rarely hails from Planet Obvious and Coetzee, a talented writer he is, knows very well what it takes to write a good book. Disgrace left me pleasantly surprised and severely shocked. Surprised at the simplicity of narrative which resulted in a powerful fiction and shocked at the impact it had on my psyche. David Lurie, an aging Professor at a University in Cape Town, SA, who is best friends with Eros is getting reckless with a young girl student of his. I rolled my eyes after reading this because more notes on a trite scandal was something I didn’t want to read about but I gave my snobbery a break. The pace of the book helped and quickly we’re introduced to David’s daughter, Lucy. She has turned into a perfect country girl with no inclination towards dressing up or looking attractive and would rather tend her farm and take a walk with her dogs. At this point begins a surge of impressive writing and one can say that Coetzee is home. He knows his South Africa well, he knows the plight of its citizens and above all he knows how to put across various points by using myriad symbolisms and allegories to tell the story of a big, unfortunate world in a small, splendid novel.

Disgrace knocked at Lurie’s door at an age when conventionally one look forward to a calm life without any burden of expectations but if we ever try to chart out the blueprint of our future then the joke is on us. Lurie wasn’t prudent to say the least but to come face to face with his immediate past in a brutal fashion is something he didn’t prepare himself for and neither did the readers. Coetzee slowly takes off the layers after layers and tells us that:

- Beauty is indeed only skin deep.
- It’s not what it looks like.
- God works in mysterious ways.
- Welcome to The Karma Café. There are no menus. You will get served what you deserve.

'How humiliating,' he says finally. 'Such high hopes, and to end like this.'

'Yes, I agree, it is humiliating. But perhaps that is a good point to start from again. Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity.'

‘Like a dog.'

'Yes, like a dog.'

Lurie also got what he deserved. But was it fair? What he did? What her daughter did? Whatever they had to experience? From one point it was completely unfair but the history of Africa is an example of unfairness and to live there, to find a place one can call home even if the price to pay is through disgrace, acceptance of fate and be at peace with whatever we are left with to move on with our lives is something one can’t deny no matter how much it infuriates us. If at times the characters seems a bit distant then it's solely because we would never want to be in their shoes and experiencing this feeling, the pathos this book is able to create is something which makes it a great read.

Profile Image for Adina .
888 reviews3,519 followers
September 8, 2016
Update: It's been a while since i read this book and it is still on my mind. As it succeeded to make me remember it after more than a year it means it deserves 5 stars instead of 4.

Very disturbing. I need to read something easy now. Maybe a Lee Child.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,485 reviews2,371 followers
May 13, 2019
Not that I'm in the slightest way bothered, but this happened to be my very first Booker Prize novel. I generally have zero interest in when books get awards, and I only found out on the day I purchased this that Disgrace bagged the Booker back in 99. Whether or not it deserved it, and how significant the Booker is, I have absolutely no idea. All I do know is that I really liked this. But that doesn't all of a sudden mean I'm likely to go on a frantic search and stack up on Booker prize novels, because I'm not. This is a one off. For now anyway. As novels go, it ticked a good few boxes for me. A good length, it felt expansive in nature but not in the page count, what it needed to do it did surprisingly well, without the need to drag it out, an interesting story with plenty of compelling plot developments, characters I really cared for and wanted to cuddle, characters I despised and wanted to push into a live volcano, and a feeling of immediate satisfaction once all was done. Also, I found it multi-layered, things that hit me straight away whilst reading, and deeper issues that lingered strong after I finished it. Coetzee’s intensely human vision infuses a fictional world that both invites and confounds political interpretation.

Cape Town lecturer David Lurie, on whom Coetzee visits a contemporary catalogue of humiliations, is a fairly average, twice-married, fiftysomething, who, accused of sexual misconduct with one of his students (he the bear, she the honeypot) chooses not to defend himself but rather to suffer his fate with a noble, slightly grumpy, stoicism. In his mind, Lurie has committed no offence; he prefers to get fired and suffer the disgrace than endure a politically correct process of rehabilitation.
Once the scenery changes by him going to the country to live with his daughter Lucy, and address the meaning of this self-inflicted injunction, It’s here that Disgrace, moved up a gear or too and began seriously to engage with the aftermath of apartheid. A feeling of hope started to settle in, before it was suddenly ripped away, the prospect of stability is replaced by the fact that the conflicts of South Africa will never truly go away.

Disgrace finishes quickly with the question of judgment; its real interest lies in what comes after, when all one's days are stamped with the word of its title. And the way the novel develops suggests that it is perhaps Coetzee, despite his resistance to a historically conditioned realism, who has the more deeply political mind. Lurie is an ironic man, but Coetzee's own irony has a surgical precision that slices through and beyond and around the character's own. The novel stands out for the way in which the writer's use of the present tense is in itself enough to shape the structure and form of the book as a whole. Even though it presents an almost unrelieved series of grim moments, where one could feel bogged down with a claustrophobic or depressing feeling, it actually works more for it's sublime exhilaration. Also it's impossible not to mention the dogs, Something I will only touch on, not go into, there is a profound meditation and a kind of otherness, when it comes to the lives and the rights of animals.

I still don't think this was as good as Waiting for the Barbarians, but on the whole I was impressed.
Profile Image for Fernando.
684 reviews1,128 followers
October 6, 2017
Durante aquella época de mi febril admiración por Fiódor Dostoievski, unos años atrás, admiración que cuya llama no se apaga, tuve la oportunidad de leer el libro "El maestro de Petersburgo", de J.M. Coetzee y ver en la tapa que había sido premiado con el premio Nobel en 2003 auguraba una interesante lectura.
Me sorprendió en el acto y gratamente la manera en que se mete en la piel del genial escritor ruso, en una novela atrapante donde Dostoievski, luego de años de exilio vuelve su querido San Petersburgo para averiguar que sucedió con Pável, su hijo fallecido.
Coetzee crea una ficción en la que nos narra cómo el la miseria y la pobreza petersburguesa de las clases más baja con la misma maestría que el viejo Fiódor. Ese libro me encantó y lo releeré algún día.
Ahora bien, mucho tiempo después, decido encarar la lectura de "Desgracia", al que siempre veía en las estanterías de las librerías y que de algún modo me llamaba con su tapa tan especial, la de ese perro flaco mirando hacia un camino de tierra. Informándome del resumen de la contratapa, podría percibir una historia fuerte y así fue.
Realmente, la prosa de Coetzee es profundamente convincente, sin retruécanos ni rodeos y va al hueso. Es directo, visceral por momentos y no le da miedo meterse con temas escabrosos, fuertes y de apabullante actualidad como lo son el abuso de menores, el acoso sexual, o la violación.
Es que Coetzee pinta una cruda realidad que abofetea al lector sin aviso.
Mientras uno lee el principio del libro, cuando David Lurie sacía sus necesidades con Soraya, la prostituta que frecuenta hasta que decide ir a visitar a su hija Lucy, no espera que la historia gire hacia una dirección inesperada a partir de un suceso puntual que sucede en la granja de Lucy y a partir de esto la acción se desarrollará sin pausa y luego de lo sucedido comenzarán a aflorar las miserias de los personajes, las culpas y las peleas.
Es que David y Lucy congenian poco. Siendo un padre ausente, todo lo que sucede entre ellos a partir de su llegada a la granja se torna forzado y complejo.
Durante todo el libro se narra todo lo que le sucede a David, este profesor devenido en ayudante de una veterinaria que sacrifica perros, pero que en realidad nunca sabe que hacer con su vida. Ha fracasado en dos matrimonios y a los cincuenta y dos años su vida naufraga entre el hastío y la indecisión.
Para mí el libro se divide en tres partes bien claras: en primer lugar, todo el asunto del affaire con su alumna Melanie Isaacs, un tema que lo salpica de lleno y que lo perseguirá hasta el final, en segundo termino el episodio violento en la granja de su hija Lucy, que no voy a contar para no generar spoiler y en su devaneo existencial final, su vuelta a su ciudad, mucho peor de como se fue y de sus inciertos planteos de cara al futuro, especialmente respecto de sus intentos de terminar una ópera que está escribiendo sobre Lord Byron, "Byron en Italia".
"Desgracia" es una historia fuerte, sin tapujos que el lector no puede esquivar, puesto que se le viene encima de golpe. Narrada por Coetzee con aplomo, sin pausas y como aclaré antes con mucha convicción.
Ese es el término que define a "Desgracia": es una historia convincente, con un acercamiento psicológico de los principales personajes muy logrado. Nuevamente ha sido de sumo placer para mí leer a Coetzee.
"Todo esto no ha sido otra cosa que una desgracia, una verdadera desgracia", dice su ex esposa Rosalind.
Y sí, David. Deberías haber sabido que todo terminaría así.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,076 followers
January 6, 2020
Some novelists can work comic relief into the most heart-wrenching dramas. See Kazuo Ishiguro, Edmund White, James McBride to mention a few. The light moments help provide greater contrast when things turn black. William Shakespeare knew that well. But Coetzee is absolutely dead humorless. That said, this is a story that should resonate well in our #metoo era. Our narrator, a twice divorced middle-aged man, a Cape Town professor, bangs one of his students who then files a complaint with the college. I knew a professor like this; but a blind eye was turned to such matters then. It’s hard now to believe such a time ever existed, but it did. One wonders what the upshot will be long term? Will we live in this constant din of accusation, or will the hounds eventually be dissuaded by rule of law? Please read Sigrid Nunez’s fabulous novel The Friend for more on how our culture has been warped by #metoo. She cites this particular Coetzee novel a number of times.

“After a certain age one is simply no longer appealing, and that’s that. One just has to buckle down and live out the rest of one’s life. Serve one’s time” (p. 67) says the 52-year-old narrator. When called on the carpet by colleagues he refuses to make any written expression of remorse, and he refuses “counseling,” which he likens to Maoist re-education. He leaves Cape Town and drives into the countryside to visit his daughter on her farm. Soon they are brutalized by black men. The daughter is raped. So how does what the professor did differ from what his assailants did? The question hangs in the air. The apartheid legacy is plumbed. The daughter, who refuses to leave her farm, says “What if that [rape] is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it ; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something. They see themselves as a debt collectors, tax collectors. Why should I be allowed to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they tell themselves.” (p. 158)

There’s so much here I haven’t addressed. Like the narrator’s work in a local animal shelter, or his apology to the parents of the student he’s seduced, or his conversations with his deeply bitter ex-wife, Lucy’s mother, or the return to Lucy’s farm of one of her rapists. . . . The characters are flawed: angry, beneficent, cruel, complaisant. These attributes are like serrations on a knife that give the story purchase in one’s mind. I will re-read this one. I don’t think I could forget it if I tried.
Profile Image for Peter.
472 reviews2,558 followers
March 26, 2020
J.M. Coetzee's book, Disgrace, provides a few very challenging topics. The main protagonist, David Lurie, bitterly resigns his academic position at the Univerity of Cape Town after an affair with a student. The relationship ethics of teacher-student is confronted when David refuses to apologise publicly for what he considered a consensual adult relationship. What runs deeper than this misjudged affair, is David's perspective on women, and with 2 failed marriages behind him, it reveals his disrespectful and disconnected attitude towards females. Coetzee is just a marvel at how he creates a character with multiple-layered traits that show the complexity of a person as their persona swings between black and white.

David then moves to his daughter Lucy's farm, in remote South Africa during the political changes with the black population transitioning into control. During the initial period, there is a hope that David starts to rectify his behaviour and outlook on women and life. The relationship with his daughter seems to be improving from previous encounters. Life isn't going to be that simple and as a white landowner, they are attacked on their land and racial issues and personal tensions are brought to the boil again. Old problems regarding the father-daughter relationship come through and place considerable stress on the home.

The writing is wonderful as it stirs emotions, some unpleasant, disagreeable and difficult to come to terms with. This is a deep look into a character and his interactions with women, and it explores the powerful prejudices some people hold.

The imagery of South Africa is excellent and the atmosphere during that period is wonderfully drawn. I would recommend this book.
April 4, 2022
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is a harrowing-and-haunting novel about the human (im)possibility to live honourably; to be allowed the very experience of honour and dignity. As opposed to being, rather, buried alive in humiliation; disgraced, utterly and ruthlessly; deprived, therefore, of humanness. It tirelessly circuits around questions of morality, pondering what it might mean for a human being to be in the throes of passions or subjected to extraneous power – a human being become a lonesome figure; an outsider, at the mercy of the grand narrative of history.

David Lurie, Communications professor at Cape Town Technical University, and his removed-from-society, self-sufficient daughter, Lucy, could not be seemingly more different from one another; separate in their ways of life and vision of the world. It could be said that they represent the double movement of this novel, between city and country, the old and the new. David – if the incipit is any indication to go by – is taken by his preoccupation with finding a solution for his sexual needs. At 52, he thought he had found it: his wholesome routine encounters with his prostitute-lover, Soraya. But her unaccounted for disappearance suggests otherwise, and the unbearable blankness resulting from this absence unsettles him profoundly. It feels almost fatal – in both meanings of the term: fateful and ruinous – that he should thus find himself having to re-orient his deep desires, electing 20-year-old Melanie, his student, as the pined for object of his desire. Needless to say that the situation degenerates all too rapidly. And upon being dismissed, he decides to visit his daughter Lucy, who lives just outside of Salem and shares her land with Petrus, emblem of the new rising power in post-apartheid South Africa. What suddenly and shockingly happens to David and Lucy – this one day, one day like any other – changes everything. And the life Lucy had assiduously built for herself – and her dogs – comes crashing down, with no real possibility for restoration…

Nabokov’s Lolita was surely at the back of Coetzee’s mind, in the writing of Disgrace. David Lurie stands for ‘the rights of desire’, driven as he is – much like Humbert – by the ‘logic of passion’; a ‘moral dinosaur’ in the eyes of the committee gathered at his dismissal hearing. Defined, also, as ‘a great self-deceiver’, with dire implications for the unfolding of his own life-narrative. His post-religiousness and ‘terrible irony’, coupled with his tendency to act on impulse rather than principle, transform him into an unpleasant and unloveable monster ‘condemned to solitude’. At the same time, the pseudo-lawful proceedings of the hearing itself operate in line with an extended commentary on moral righteousness. It turns out that more than a confession – where he is only able to deliver ‘a secular plea’ – is expected of him. Indeed, the committee refuses to actually hear what he has to say. The representatives are merely interested in determining whether he is truly repentant, in the Christian sense of the term that is also constitutive of a more general, puritanical system of belief. The hearing thus transforms into a quixotic scene, with David standing his ground. Judged to be a Casanova unwilling to even feign repentance, he is marginalised accordingly.

The one solid claim that David Lurie seems to be making throughout the novel, further confirmed through the later confrontation with Melanie’s father, is that there is something all-too-human about desire; about finding oneself, almost irresistibly, ‘in the grip of something’. His attempts to rationalise – ‘What is far, what is too far, in a matter like this?’ – or legitimise his actions by proclaiming himself to be Eros’s servant – ‘What vanity! Yet not a lie, not entirely.’ – all seem to fall short, not quite exposing, or fully articulating, the extent to which being caught by the ‘anxious flurry of promiscuity’ is also and ultimately a ‘burden’; a site of conflict.

No more than a child! What am I doing? Yet his heart lurches with desire.’

Alongside the references to Emma Bovary – the emblem of unbridled passion – much of the novel’s metacommentary operates through a poetic vein, in the light of the protagonist’s scholarly study of Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Byron in particular. Taking the lead from one of Wordsworth’s poems, David comments – during one of his lectures – that one ought not to ‘condemn this being with the mad heart’ but to ‘understand and sympathise’, within certain limits. Limits that are compulsively questioned throughout the novel, to the point where David confesses that he is hard put to consider these Romantic poets of his as decent guides in matters of life. There is also the fact that he is working on a long-term project that sees Byron and his mistress Teresa as protagonists of an opera. The shifting of moods, and the radical modifications he applies to his opera, as well as the struggle to make something of the ‘fragments’ that come to him from time to time, are an added layer to this underlying preoccupation with the concept of being; with understanding the nature of one’s passions and desires, and working through them. Ultimately he realises that his need for sex is of a less passionate order. When he has sex with a young woman passing by – after a relatively long period of abstention – he comments: ‘So that is all it takes! How could I ever have forgotten it? Not a bad man but not good either’, though evidently ‘lacking in fire’. As it seems, his temperament is more attuned to unsentimental sex – ‘a moderate bliss, a moderated bliss’.

And yet what haunts him (and his immersion in Lucy’s world defines his deep-rooted apprehensions all the more starkly) is the thought – absurd in that it strips humanity of its dignity – of being brought to hate one’s own nature, whatever that might mean. In a highly revealing parallelism between humans and dogs, David relates the story of a dog being relentlessly reprimanded by its master, and rhetorically questions whether it is not in itself ‘ignoble’ and disgraceful that the dog should develop a self-hating instinct, and is ‘ready to punish itself’ for simply being what it is in its nature to be. It is no coincidence that dogs dominate the backdrop of this novel, and that the fate of humanity and dogs becomes intertwined on a very deep level. Indeed, David ends up assisting Bev with extinguishing the lives of the too-many dogs that show up at the small shelter on a daily basis – either because unwanted by their owners, heavily injured, or disabled in one way or another. On his part, he insists on giving them an honourable death. But the overpowering violence of the land turns the incinerator – the object that annihilates the dogs, forever – into the governing god of this new world in-the-making. Inescapable, for man and dog, alike.

The levels of extraneously-imposed hatred, leading up to rape, confound this framework even further. What is so tremendously shocking about what happens to Lucy on her own land is that she experiences the full force of being a non-entity, divested of her right to life and dignity. In an early meta-passage, David lingers on the meanings of ‘usurp’:‘usurp upon means to intrude or encroach upon. Usurp, to take over entirely’. This is – in a nutshell – the nature of the power shifts at work in the novel, the rift between black and white. ‘A history of wrong’ that cannot be made right, it seems. Rather, hatred seems to be appropriated by the previously subjugated people, and the ‘wrongs of the past’ thus perpetuated, with the respective roles merely reversed. This is made clear especially when Petrus, who has been progressively taking over Lucy’s land and possessions, refuses to send away one of the young men who violated Lucy, on the grounds that he is ‘one of them’. David realises: ‘So that is it. No more lies. My people. As naked an answer as he could wish.’ Lucy – humiliated, subjugated, disgraced, and exiled from her own land – is adamant about staying put, however. She appears to take upon herself the sheer weight of historical wrongs, and insists on wanting to be a good citizen on the one hand, and on holding on to her individual right to lead the life she wants to lead, on the other. Lucy wonders, in fact:

‘What if…what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something.’

The questions, it seems, keep piling up, becoming more complex and convoluted. To what extent is what David did to Melanie different – or substantially so – from what the three countrymen did to Lucy? Is it that the narrative perspective itself – in privileging David’s viewpoint – comes to reflect the tensions and the impenetrable divide between them and the others? In this novel, Coetzee delineates an unforgiving land that knows only the language of violence, coarseness, domination, vengeance. A dry aridness with something of the unfathomable about it.

‘More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa. Stretches of English code whole sentences long have thickened, lost their articulations, their articulateness, their articulatedness.’

This changing reality is indistinct, uncertain, as yet unknown and unknowable. And Coetzee’s meticulous attention to language and the meaning of words, as well as his sober, plain and fairly laconic prose, conjointly strive to present and articulate some understanding of this chilling landscape; to keep despair at bay.


4.5 solid stars.

It is no wonder that Coetzee won his first Booker Prize in 1999 precisely with this incalculably complex and powerful novel. And that it was followed by the Nobel Prize in 2003.

Disgrace is a remarkably perturbing novel. It dismantles many an illusion, reveals the nothingness beneath – and leaves us, where, exactly? Nowhere, I would say. Or perhaps, bereft: disgraced in our adriftness, or dignified in our inarticulate understanding of disgrace as a ‘state of being’ synonymous with the ‘desert’ of life, figuratively and non-figuratively. Humanity, like dogs, destined to all-encompassing desolation, flung out in the ‘wilderness’, caught in the ‘vast circulatory system’, or the incinerator, with no means of escape.

Edward Hopper
Profile Image for Dolors.
539 reviews2,278 followers
August 4, 2013
Brace yourself to meet Professor David Lurie, banished son of the Romantic Poets, he roves and loves, spreading his unfertile seed unapologetically.
Byronic in his burning desire to possess female bodies, he doesn’t crave for their souls, it is the release of the flesh, the ecstasy of the unloved that he is after.
Fifty-two year old David seeks only his own pleasure and succumbs to his instincts as the true womanizer he is, or as he calls himself a lover of women, paying homage to Wordsworth in nurturing his true nature, embracing its mystery, arising as the dutiful Don Juan.
David feels satisfied combining this quiet life of debauchery with his comfortable post as a teacher at Cape Town University, but when his old age starts pressing on him, casting a shadow to his virile charms, he seeks for rejuvenation in lusting over one of his young students. Taking advantage of his position and blinded by his heated obsession, he recklessly pursues the young girl until she yields to his unrelenting demands.
When the affair is brought to light, David rejects all kind of moral compromise and, adopting a pose built on vanity and self-righteousness, he self-expels himself from the University.
"I am not prepared to be reformed. I want to go on being myself", he unflinchingly says to his daughter Lucy, whom he visits in her faraway farm until the scandal in Cape Town subsides.
A despicable character, indeed.
Or isn’t it?

This is the real beginning of David Lurie’s story. The starting point of a transcendental journey, which will change, not Lurie’s nature but the way he understands life, death and history.
For his lesbian daughter Lucy is everything he is not, a sturdy countrywoman who runs a farm and a kennel in a foreign land, an idealist with a not yet fired gun for protection, a forgiving soul who takes him in, without judging or questioning.
David will discover an unknown South Africa in Lucy’s rural spot, a place where his erudition and cynicism are worthless, a terrible place where a new order is being consolidated amidst brutish racial conflict, a territory whose implacable rules transcend what’s merely human. Lucy will pay a dear price for the sake of history, only to become David’s scapegoat, leaving no path for redemption.

Coetzee intertwines subjects such as the suffering and the dignity of animals with the mute and inescapable violence of his homeland, presenting challenging questions to the reader. What kind of mercy can animals expect from human beings who kill each other because of their race, their gender, or simply for random pleasure? How is it possible for people to achieve mutual respect if they can’t treat animals that feed them with the dignity they deserve?
The suffering of animals, the suffering of human beings: a sublime game of two-way mirrors.

Coetzee’s mirrors, capable of deforming his characters until the reader can see them for what they really are, reflect, from a myriad of kaleidoscopic angles, the central idea of the novel: the concept of Disgrace.
David Lurie, the cult seducer, disgraced in his old age and remorse.
His daughter Lucy, the white independent woman, disgraced in losing her status in a world where racial conflict has turned over the social order through injustice and cruelty. Humiliation and shame become Lucy’s new home in penance for the burden of history.
South Africa, a wealthy country and the future of Africa, disgraced with its harrowing violence and misery.

Coetzee’s final coupe de grâce relays in the way he weaves his dry, detached tone and unadorned narrative style with the lyrical closing chapters, in which David tries to recover his existential balance through the process of writing an opera based on the decaying affair of Lord Byron and his mistress Teresa. The voice of the dead poet mingles with David’s, and a phantasmagorical chant roams dolefully throughout South Africa, accompanying his descend to the abyss.
This crude novel won’t offer redeeming answers. But one can recover some dignity in resigned acceptance, as David does when his thoughts meddle with Yeats’s poem:

“He sighs. The young in one another's arms heedless, engrossed in the sensual music. No country, this, for old men.”

Old men, like Professor David Lurie, don’t have it in their core to adjust to change, to adapt to a new imposed reality. Their only aspiration is that of a decent death. In finding someone merciful enough to give a lethal shot while they are soothed and caressed, only to be put in a plastic bag and later be consumed by the fire of an industrial oven. What’s important is to make sure they don’t suffer any more than what’s strictly necessary, it doesn’t matter whether they are animals or human beings, when their souls are finally sucked away and gone in a gush of dark smoke.

"That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

William Butler Yeats
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book557 followers
April 4, 2017
When I closed on the last page of this book, I just sat in stunned silence and stared into space. I felt a little sick and lost, over affected by the sad truths it disclosed. I did not cry, but there were tears behind my eyes pricking through much of this read, and they were not tears for these characters as much as for humanity at large.

David Lurie is not a likeable person. He is short-sighted and self-centered and amazingly insensitive. So, how is it that I ended this book wishing him well? Wishing he would find the future better than the present? That Bev Shaw’s assertion that “One gets used to things getting harder; one ceases to be surprised that what used to be as hard as hard can be grows harder yet.” will not be the truth for him always? There is a glimmer of hope growing at the end of this story that flickers like a candle flame. It might easily be blown out, but perhaps it will find a way to burn on into the future; perhaps it will save Lucy and David alike.

I have been being surprised a lot by the books I have been reading lately. I seem to have some preconceived idea about what they will entail and then find they are not that at all. This definitely falls into that category for me. I thought this was going to be about race relations in South Africa, and it is, but it is about so much more than that. It is about humanity and what unavoidable ugly choices we make, that we are not always forced into, and how we relate to others and their choices which we find completely impossible to understand. Lucy tells David that he sees her as a minor play in the story of his life, but that she believes she is at the center of her own story. And that might be the most true statement Coetzee makes. We are all the center of our own stories and everyone else is a minor player. We cannot help that. Can anyone really imagine life goes on without them? Can you think about the day after you are dead and all the people you know still getting up for breakfast and going to work...but you are not there, you do not exist? It is the hardest thing to imagine in all the world.

Huge kudos to J. M. Coetzee for tackling the big questions and weaving them into a marvelous story that grips you from beginning to end. I heartily recommend this book. I have no doubt I will be thinking about it for a long, long time.
Profile Image for Karen.
592 reviews1,193 followers
June 12, 2019
So many themes taking place in this short novel that starts out with a twice divorced, 52 yr old college professor in South Africa losing his career after a seduction and affair with a young student of his...his state of “disgrace”

He ends up going to the rural part of the region, to spend time with his grown daughter. While there, the daughters house is burglarized and acts of violence occur “disgraced” again.

I’m kind of at a loss for words to review this.. read others reviews..
This is quite a haunting and disturbing read!

Themes include ..sexuality, racial tension, rape, desire, shame, remorse, empathy, justice, fathers and daughters, animal treatment... just so many ..
Profile Image for Kim.
286 reviews792 followers
February 23, 2009
There should be one of those button options on GR that states this review has been hidden due to hormonal, maybe not so justified, incoherent rants… click here to view

Because that’s what you’re about to get.

David Lurie is a playah. In the full urban dictionary sense of the word.

A male who is skilled at manipulating ("playing") others, and especially at seducing women by pretending to care about them, when in reality they are only interested in sex….A certain class of low-rent, slack-jawed fuckups has decided that backstabbing and misogyny are totally radical, so the word is sometimes used as a compliment or term of endearment between male friends, as in the greeting "what's up, player?".

Maybe others got a sense of woefulness and redemption and even thought that he might have ‘learned’ from his ‘disgrace’ and all that shit. Not me. This book incited this---rage in me. Believe, I was knocked on my ass by it. My feminist instincts aren’t usually this easily inflamed. I tend to dole out my hatred in a neatly fashioned, equal rights, sort of way. So, why can’t I get over this?

Maybe I should give kudos to Coetzee for bringing this character so vividly to life---too bad I have such a hard time distinguishing him from the author. I don’t know if I can read anything else by him. I’m sort of lost in the disgust right now. I’m not saying it’s right. That’s the whole point of a rant, right? Just let it flow, man.

Was David supposed to be redeemed? Did making him a scholar, a thinker, let him off? Because he cared for his daughter as he thought a father should—is this supposed to make him a worthy person? Because he could see what he did---clearly---because he could dissect it---were we just supposed to say ‘Oh, it’s okay, he knows where his evil lies… no biggie.’

Fuck, no.

He is swarmy. He deserved everything he got. He is superficial and cares only about his legacy. He is lofty enough to believe himself to be Byronesque (don’t EVEN get me started.) Where does he get off thinking he’s doing these women a favor? He praises his daughter for being a strong woman in S. Africa, yet his first description is as follows:

“For a moment he does not recognize here. A year has passed and she has put on weight. Her hips and breasts are now (he searches for the best word) ample.”

Then he goes on to call her ‘sturdy’—‘A solid woman, embedded in her new life.’ Does that sound like he’s praising? Sounds like a judgment to me. And not a flattering one. And then there’s ‘poor Bev Shaw’ and even his downfall, his own Teresa: “Her name is Melanie Isaacs, from his Romantics course. Not the best student but not the worst either: clever enough, but unengaged.”
Man, can he dole out the compliments.

And the whole issue of race relations? How dare he think he could pass judgment on how people like Petrus presented themselves. How dare he take offense at Petrus’s sense of what is right and wrong when he’s throwing around his own ‘lofty’ assessments of women. Get over yourself, already.

I think that his ‘disgrace’ is just a cop out. I don’t believe for one minute that he actually felt he did any wrong. He’s spineless and deserves everything he got and much much more.

Because the writing is well done, just because of that, actually. I’ll give it 3 stars… I know, I know, I should step back, appreciate the insight and all.

Screw that.

I’ve seen too many real life examples of this twat. He can go to Hell.

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