J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Disgrace” is about a white man living South Africa, after apartheid, at a time when none of the old rules apply. David Lurie is a 52-year-old professor who has, as Coetzee writes in the first sentence of the book, “solved the problem of sex rather well.” That is, until he has an affair with a colored student, and his life begins to unravel.
The book takes place just as white rule has been abolished and neither whites nor blacks know how they are supposed to live together.
The novelist Sheila Kohler grew up in South Africa, and left because she wanted to get away from the injustice of apartheid. But Coetzee’s novel, Kohler says, brought back all the old questions about race and redemption and allowed her to see her country, and her choices, in a different way.
Sheila Kohler, Faculty member of the MFA Writing Seminars at Bennington College, and author of numerous books including “Cracks,” “One Girl,” and “Crossways.”