Book of the month: September

Varanasi, India.

Varanasi, India.

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The first book I read last month was Disgrace, by South-African writer J.M.Coetzee.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Town Technical University, who sees his life taking a disgraceful turn after he seduces - rape would be a more accurate word - one of his students.

Following a decision by a University committee, and refusing to publicly and formally apologize, Lurie loses his job, his status and, as the title implies, his dignity.

Realizing there was nothing left for him in Cape Town, David opts for a change of scenery. He heads east across the country to the rural town of Salem in the Eastern Cape, where his daughter Lucy lives alone on a smallholding, growing vegetables to sell at the Saturday market and running a kennel for dogs.

David tries to adjust to his new life, helping Lucy at the market, assisting her neighbor Petrus with odd jobs and taking care of the dogs, and volunteering at the Animal Welfare Clinic with Bev Shaw. He also spends time poring over his newest academic project, an opera based on the love affair between the British poet Lord Byron and his mistress Teresa Guiccioli.

Things seem to be going just fine for a while, despite David's apparent distaste for the life that Lucy has chosen for herself. Then one day, when three strangers invade their home, everything changes.

Disgrace was a Booker prize winner in 1999, making JM Coetzee the first writer to win the trophy twice (first with Life & Times of Michael K). In 2003, he was also awarded the Nobel prize in literature.

The book is a modern classic and it offers a raw portrait of life in South Africa in the years following the Apartheid. It is also a profound exploration of the human condition. Having lived in Cape Town for two years, this book brings me lots of memories form my time there, and it helped me to increase my understanding of the contradictions still observed in the South-African society these days.

It is a short novel and although it can be quite heavy, emotionally, the read itself is easy and extremely enjoyable. I highly recommend this book.

The second book I read was Deep South, by Paul Theroux. Two things caught my attention about this book: first, it has pictures by photography living legend Steve McCurry; the second, the book was a collection of human stories gathered during the author's road trip throughout the deep south of the United States.

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I wanted to understand a bit more of the country I am currently calling home, and I thought this book would be a great way to discover realities that often ignored by the mainstream media, or the image people overseas have of the United States. I was not disappointed.

As Paul says, he found in the south of the country scenarios of such poverty and misery that could only be compared to those he found in countries in Africa or Southeast Asia. Above all, however, the book is about human resilience, about people trying to cope with their difficulties. But it is also about racial issues, history, misconceptions, cultural differences…it is, indeed, a mosaic of stories that reflect the diversity of issues within a society; also, the diversity of issues within oneself…ultimately, this book helps us to understand that, despite all the differences we may have with each other, despite all the different ways through which we see the world around us, we are all human beings looking for the same things: love, happiness and a sense of purpose and belonging.

Reading made me a traveller. Travel sent me back to books.
— Paul Theroux

I definitely recommend this book if you want go past the discourse of the “American Dream” and discover one side that perhaps is not as bright as the “stars” in Hollywood, or as joyful as the Mickey Mouse in Disneyland..


Bernardo Salce