n English in Africa - Arrival : J. M. Coetzee in Cape Town




December 2009: the first American edition of J. M. Coetzee's (hereafter ) appears. My personal curiosity is piqued. Here, it would seem from the publicity, is a fictionalized autobiography that covers the period in which I had overlapped with Coetzee at the University of Cape Town. I do not expect to feature in this "fiction" - why should I? - but I am curious about ways in which my own recall of those years may or may not coincide with Coetzee's fictionalized ones.

I receive a complimentary copy of the book from Viking, with a signed card from Coetzee. Is it a gift or a message? Both? I want to thank him. His University of Adelaide electronic mailbox is full. I send an actual letter, on paper. He replies in an email, "What a pleasure to receive an old-fashioned letter." I read the book. In it, the author John Coetzee has died in Australia. We are being given some materials of a posthumous biography in preparation by a literary biographer.
These materials include a small number of dated notebook entries and some "undated fragments" written, we must believe, by Coetzee between 1972 and 1975. The full time span covered by the book is not, however, wholly clear. Most of the book consists of contemporary "interviews" conducted by the biographer assembling the book. These are interviews with people, all women with one exception, with whom Coetzee is evidently known to have had relationships. The John Coetzee of Summertime will thus be a function of heterogeneous memories dating back as much as thirty years.


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