Youth MAG

By Agatha K., Urbana, IL

     "Normal people find it hard to be bad," says John, the adolescent protagonist. "Badness is to them like a fever: they want it out of their system ... But artists have to live with their fever ... The fever is what makes them artists; the fever must be kept alive." Even with this philosophical explanation for his undesirable behavior, John miserably fails to create this fever, let alone lead an artist's life, which is his longtime dream. Throughout this concise book, the writer effectively describes John as he experiences his failure as an artist.

The story begins as John, a 19-year-old South African mathematics graduate, embarks on a journey to find himself. His journey is full of unpromising signs, however. The Cold War is on, and social unrest is erupting in South Africa, forcing John to flee to London, one of the supposed paradises he imagined as full of poetry and romance. But he reluctantly works for IBM as a computer programmer and finds only bleakness in London, mirroring the destructive confusion inside himself. In fact, this bleak atmosphere affects the entire book - Coetzee's terse yet bitter sentences contribute all the more to depressing readers. To counteract his lonely life without love or poetry, John tries his best to have love affairs, but they only result in his awareness that he can't even have a real love life.

Though struggling to fight off his perfunctory life, John is slowly defeated. He gets more accustomed to the practical reality and drifts away from the world of Ezra Pound and Maddox Ford that he once so admired until he is not a poet, or a lover, but only a computer programmer.

Written in third person present tense, Youth might seem objective at first, but it turns out to be extremely personal. Throughout the book, readers will feel like they are sitting inside John's head, sharing his psychology.

Thousands of authors write about an adolescent's chaotic progress to find a place in the world, but Youth seems different from the rest of these books. Coetzee's succinct, cold writing style is truly interesting - like classic Russian literature - which also helps us suspect that Coetzee might not be the warmest person. In fact, Coetzee is notorious for shunning publicity, and did not collect his two Booker Prizes.

Coetzee is also the winner of Nobel prize in literature in 2003. As the Nobel Academy put it, "he is a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilization."

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This article has 2 comments.

i love this !

summer k. said...
on Nov. 18 2008 at 2:12 pm
this sounds like a good book i would like to read.

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