Review of ‘Summertime’ by J M Coetzee

Title: Summertime

Author: J. M. Coetzee

The Nobel Laureate J M Coetzee presents another master piece – ‘Summertime’, to his readers, and again, you will not be disappointed.

A young writer is to write a biography of John Coetzee. Off he goes on a journey that takes him from South Africa to Brazil to England in getting some personal testimony from people, whom had personal relationship with J Coetzee, in South Africa in 1970s.

In addition, the young writer also gathers some fragmental pieces of diaries from Coetzee that was written in the same periods. From those personal stories and diaries, a young Coetzee gradually appears in front of readers. He is awkward, shy, bookish and often emotional isolated. It is a time when South Africa is deeply divided by Apathies and the Western world is divided by anti war protests. Coetzee, as well as many white people from colonies, face personal crisis of cultural and social identity. Wherever he goes, Coetzee does not fit in- a long haired and beared man with some writings that no one seems to know what about. He teaches some students English as a teacher not on permanent basis. He teaches English poetry, which raises suspicious from some parents. He does manual works and lives in a run-down house, which also is very much disapproved by the extended Coetzee family. He places himself on the peripheral of the society. 

It is a fictional biography written by J. M. Coetzee himself presented in the third person. The stories are often sad, but sometimes funny. The structure of the book is well knitted together by setting his personal diaries at the start and the end of the book that links all chapters.  The main body of the book is formed by some first person narratives which are not only Coetzee’s relationships and love affairs with those who were around him at the time, but it pictures a wider and gloomier ambience of South African society in 1970s.

It’s a very enjoyable reading Summertime has won the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Award.