Disgrace: JM Coetzee



Misfortune -or Disgrace, by its original English title, is a campus novel written by South African linguist, translator and professor JM Coetzee. The work was published for the first time on July 1, 1999 by the publisher Harvill Secker. Later, it had a translation into Spanish by Miguel Martínez Lage and an edition by Mondadori.

Upon release, Misfortune won the Booker Prize, in addition to widespread critical acclaim. For their part, readers have been very optimistic about this book, despite the gory content. In contrast, the argument has generated confusion in a minority who, even after so much time, have not managed to understand the metatext included within the book.

Synopsis of Misfortune

Post-apartheid South Africa

Apartheid was the system of racial segregation imposed in South Africa between 1948 and 1992. It is just after the overthrow of these separatist laws that the novel takes place, which tells the story of David Lurie, a university professor twice divorced who teaches English romantic poetry at Cape Town Technical University.

Performer he loses contact with his trusted prostitute, since she decided to reform her life. Some time later, the teacher Hire some private detectives to track down the woman, but is rejected by her when she is found. Then, he begins a horrible romance with her young student, Melanie Isaacs, whom he manipulates and forces into having sexual relations.

The persecution of an innocent and the fall of a miserable man

Ryan, the young woman's boyfriend, confronts the teacher to leave her alone, but the subject does not stop. Soon, Melanie stops attending university for a few days and, later, She withdraws from Lurie's class, who grades her in absentia without knowing that the girl had withdrawn from her professorship.. Because of these and other offenses, the professor is investigated and brought before the academic authorities.

David Lurie refuses to sign a statement written by anyone else, nor does he apologize for his crimes. Subsequently, The man travels to a ranch where he meets Lucy, his daughter. There, he dedicates himself to taking care of the neighbors' pets and farming. However, some time later they are visited by some property thieves. These men abuse Lucy and burn David's head.

The existence of poetic irony

At the ranch, David Lurie befriends a woman named Bev Shaw, with whom he shares all the problems he and Lucy have had to go through. The girl faces the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, in addition to a probable sexually transmitted disease. Likewise, Lucy refuses an abortion, although not out of religious or moral convictions.

On the other hand, the girl insists on not reporting the abuse to the authorities, a fact that, according to the protagonist, is as if she had become an accomplice in the crime. This, at the same time, is ironic, given Lurie's own previous circumstances. Things get worse for both the professor and his daughter, as their crisis is national news.

Back to Cape Town

David Lurie returns to his hometown, where he attends a dinner with Melanie Isaacs' parents. The couple prays before eating food, which makes the protagonist think that these are very religious people, so they will be much more willing to forgive their actions. After, the main character discovers that his apartment has been ransacked and that he no longer has access to university services.

Later, Lurie strikes up a conversation with one of his ex-wives, who reproaches him for the absurd way in which he has ruined his own life by not being able to abstain. Another novelty in the city is an opera of the tragic romance between Teresa and Byron. It involves Melanie, whom the protagonist goes to see perform, although Ryan aggressively fires him.

The hypocrisy of the South African city

The greatness of Misfortune is that many readings can be done of this work. Nevertheless, The most obvious has to do with the hypocrisy that hangs over South African society. It should be noted that it is not possible to separate the story from its political, social and economic context, since the thought represented in the novel was the daily bread for the locals before the reforms.

In this sense, the main protagonist, who at the beginning of the book makes unforgivable mistakes, He condemns the deplorable acts that mark his daughter's life, while he himself remains immersed in rot. David Lurie is not a hero, because, in his own way, he exercises violence, whether against Melanie or Lucy's stalkers.

About the Author

John Maxwell Coetzee was born on February 9, 1940, in Cape Town, South Africa. The author graduated in Mathematics and English in his homeland. In 1960 he moved to London, England, where he worked for some time in the area of ​​computer programming. In 1969 he received his doctorate in Computational Linguistics from the University of Texas in Austin, United States.

Later, JM Coetzee taught English Language and Literature at the State University of New York in Buffalo, an activity he carried out until 1983. In 2003, after several successful works to his credit, the writer received the Nobel Prize of Literature by Brilliance in analyzing South African society.

Other books by JM Coetzee


  • Dusklands — Lands of Westeros (1974);
  • In the Heart of the Country — In the Middle of Nowhere (1977);
  • Waiting for the Barbarians (1980);
  • Life & Times of Michael K (1983);
  • foe (1986);
  • Age of Iron (1990);
  • The Master of Petersburg (1994);
  • Elizabeth Costello (2003);
  • Slow Man (2005);
  • Diary of a Bad Year (2007);
  • The Childhood of Jesus (2013);
  • The Schooldays of Jesus (2016);
  • The Death of Jesus (2019);
  • The Pole (2022)

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