When John Coetzee won the Nobel prize for literature this year, South Africans did not dance in the streets. “A novelist little read or understood in his own country,” wrote Le Monde, when the award was announced. That was putting it mildly. I don’t recall much festivity, either, when, a few years back, he won the Booker prize for a second time with Disgrace. Admiration abroad and dismay at home, where Coetzee has been called a sexist, racist impostor.
What lies behind the puzzlement, the derision, is the feeling that “they,” that is “the west” or “the north” in new…
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