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J.M. Coetzee. Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1999.

Viking, 2001. 295 pp. $24.95.

Truly skeptical writing--prose that is thoughtful and inquisitive even while it doubts and questions cultural certainties--is rare in our age of critical carping, finger-pointing, and one-upmanship. Stranger Shores, by South African writer J. M. Coetzee, the only two-time winner of the Booker Prize, is an immensely pleasurable read because Coetzee submits a global array of authors to the responsible scrutiny of his skeptical gaze. In this collection of twenty-six essays, such seemingly unrelated authors as Daniel Defoe, Harry Mulisch, Joseph Brodsky, and Daphne Rooke become connected by Coetzee's abiding concern with migrants, exiles, and the heimatlos (homeless)--those writers who either choose or are forced onto the stranger shores of rootless existence. His critiques explore how these writers migrate among literary techniques as much as they move from place to place. American T. S. Eliot, in Coetzee's view, manipulates the epic form to render himself "English enough" to judge what qualifies as classic European literature. He lauds Caryl Phillips for connecting the persecution of European Jews to the degradations suffered by many Africans, even while he doubts that Phillips's loosely connected stories can rightly be called novels. He questions whether or not Thomas Pringle, a Scottish poet born in 1789, has the right to be called "the founding father of English-language poetry in South Africa." Stranger Shores powerfully demonstrates what it means to globalize literary studies, for its juxtaposition of the "classic" (Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Richardson), postmodern (Salman Rushdie, A. S. Byatt, Cees Nooteboom) and postcolonial (Phillips, Amos Oz, Naguib Mafouz) details the differences among these writers even as it elucidates the commonalities of their deracinated experiences.
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Author:Stone, E. Kim
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
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