cover image Age of Iron

Age of Iron

J. M. Coetzee. Random House (NY), $18.95 (198pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58859-9

Harsh, unflinching and powerful, Coetzee's ( Waiting for the Barbarians ) new novel is a cry of moral outrage at the legacy that apartheid has created in South Africa. In scenes of stunning ferocity, he depicts the unequal warfare waging between the two races, a conflict in which the balance of power is slowly shifting. An elderly woman's letters to her daughter in America make up the narrative. Near death from rapidly advancing cancer, Cape Town resident Mrs. Curren is a retired university professor and political liberal who has always considered herself a ``good person'' in deploring the government's obfuscatory and brutal policies, though she has been insulated from the barbarism they produce. When the teenage son of her housekeeper is murdered by the police and his activist friend is also shot by security forces, Mrs. Curren realizes that ``now my eyes are open and I can never close them again.'' The only person to whom she can communicate her anguished feelings of futility and waste is an alcoholic derelict whom she prevails on to be her messenger after her death, by mailing the packet of her letters to her daughter. In them she records the rising tide of militancy among young blacks; brave, defiant and vengeful, they are a generation whose hearts have turned to iron. His metaphors in service to a story that moves with the implacability of a nightmare, Coetzee's own urgent message has never been so cogently delivered. (Sept.)