Reviews

Boyhood: a Memoir

Norbert Ruebsaat

J.M. Coetzee has written a boyhood memoir in the third person, and this is no mean feat; nor is it a postmodern "novel." This could have to do with the fact that Boyhood: a Memoir (Vintage) is set in South Africa, a country where life and history still intersect because there's not enough media between them yet. Coetzee's hero is "he," Coetzee, and we believe "him" when he writes and remembers; while reading I was reminded of Stephen Daedalus remembering Ireland, that other outpost of British imperialism where fact and fiction mixed early and still became memory.

Coetzee is an English-speaking Afrikaaner and so he listens with one ear and speaks with another, and what happens in between is literature of the highest order: you can hear each sentence echoing long after it's been read, and you can begin to inhabit that hollow space in the skull and in the world which that little delightful devilish "he" leaves open.

I wished while reading that I had thought of "Boyhood" as the title for a book. I also imagined the hero's name the whole time I was reading, even though the book didn't mention it once.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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