Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life

Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life

by J. M. Coetzee


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"Fiercely revealing, bluntly unsentimental. . .a telling portrait of the artist as a young man that illuminates the hidden source of his art." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018. 

Coetzee grew up in a new development north of Cape Town, tormented by guilt and fear. With a father he despised, and a mother he both adored and resented, he led a double life—the brilliant and well-behaved student at school, the princely despot at home, always terrified of losing his mother's love. His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and a growing awareness of apartheid left him with baffling questions; and only in his love of the high veld ("farms are places of freedom, of life") could he find a sense of belonging. Bold and telling, this masterly evocation of a young boy's life is the book Coetzee's many admirers have been waiting for, but never could have expected.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140265668
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/1998
Series: Scenes from Provincial Life , #1
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 381,848
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.73(h) x 0.45(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.


Adelaide, Australia

Date of Birth:

February 9, 1940

Place of Birth:

Cape Town, South Africa


B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Fiercely revealing, bluntly unsentimental. . .a telling portrait of the artist as a young man that illuminates the hidden source of his art." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Exceptional...a scorched tale of race, caste, shame, and—at times—hilarious bewilderment." —The New Yorker

"Tremendously readable and powerful...a masterfully told, spare and accessible memoir." —The Boston Globe


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Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first, the thought of a memoir written in the third person came as a shock to me. I was very skeptical as to how it would turn out. Surprisingly enough, it works. In his memoir Boyhood, J.M. Coetzee tells of his childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa. And all of the struggles he faces while going through adolescence are shown through a boy we only know as ¿he¿. Because of this detachment I was able to see his childhood from his point of view, while understanding it from the perspective of someone else seeing it. The setting in which his childhood takes place greatly shapes his thoughts and emotions. As someone with mixed English and Afrikaans heritage with no real religious beliefs, he has serious trouble fitting in. After responding to a teacher¿s question of what religion he is he replies Roman Catholic because it reminds him of ancient Rome. After being hissed at by the largely Christian student body he immediately regrets his decision and hopes to be asked again the next day. ¿Then he, who has clearly made a mistake, can correct himself and be a Christian.¿ This fear of being singled out is also shown through his regret for his last name. When told he may be switched into a class with all students of Afrikaans descent, he prepares for the worst. ¿He has a plan for that day¿ he will not go to the Afrikaans classes¿Then he will lock the front door and tell his mother that he is not going back to school, that if she betrays him he will kill himself.¿ It is the incredibly structured social system of his country where everyone has a place that makes his adolescent search for his own identity that much more difficult. In his memoir Coetzee showed me a life I had never heard of in a place I have never seen, and yet it is a life I am familiar with that I can understand. While the scenes he depicts are so unique to him, he is still ultimately telling the story of a boy growing up.
shawjonathan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this after reading and loving Summertime, the third in the Scenes from Provincial Life series. At least on the surface, it's a much more conventional piece of work, a possibly fictionalised memoir of the author's childhood told in the third person. (We don't learn that the boy's name is John until about the halfway point.) Unlike the unreliable interviewees of Summertime, the narrator appears to be omniscient, though he reports the young John's understanding of things without signalling to the reader when the boy has got it wrong. This sometimes results in a straightforward irony, as in matters of reproductive physiology. Elsewhere, as the boy struggles to make sense of his relationships to his parents, of the English, the Afrikaans, the Coloureds and the Africans, of South African history, of religion and his own preadolescent stirrings, the narrator leaves us alone with the boy's painful sense of his own peculiarity. The effect, for me at least, rang very true to what childhood is like, stripped of the gloss of nostalgia and self-preserving sentiment. An unexpected bonus from having read the book out of order was the poignant discovery that the father for whom 'John' cares in Summertime was an object of his contempt and intense dislike in Boyhood.
Wilhelm_Weber on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great description of a time long gone and still throwing its shadows. Fascinating interplay between adults and children, parents and their offspring, teachers and schoolchildren, afrikaans and english people, church and religion, school, politics, sports, race and other perspectives in the rural Cape - and then the issues of growing up in a time no longer ours, but still with us.
siafl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book reminds me of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, which is one of my favourite books. This book tells the author's childhood story with a stumbled-upon Catholic connection.Coetzee explores how he has been shaped into who he is by examining and reflecting on very private matters. This is the first of three books where Coetzee reveals himself. I didn't read them in chronological order - in fact I read this one last - but didn't think it mattered. The three phases, boyhood, youth, and early adulthood seem to have very clear boundaries. Even in places where stories overlap, or share a connection, Coetzee manages to describe them adequately independently that there's no need to refer to any other volumes in the series. I found it kind of interesting that I first read about his father in Summertime, and then now found out what really happened that made their relationship go down the road that it has.Coetzee and Ian McEwan, to me, share a somewhat similar style that I like very much. I first became in awe of McEwan's writing, and while I still love it tremendous, now I have found Coetzee's stylish prose as well. But more importantly I am drawn to his subject, quite often on a very personal level, which I quite often don't find in McEwan's books, and which I find to be more meaningful to me. This series in particular, has made Coetzee a favourite novelist of mine.
RicDay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most evocative, extraordinary description of a childhood I have ever read, or expect to read. Coetzee's spare, austere prose is incredibly intense. I know the time and place of which he writes so well, but even if I did not know it before reading this book, I would feel I had lived there too, after reading it.
charisse_louw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The uncomfortable truths of childhood observation -- harsh judgments often so true and wounding.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary_Perkton More than 1 year ago
In recollecting his own childhood experiences, J. M. Coetzee's "Boyhood" provides an insightful examination of growing up in South Africa during the years of apartheid. The book provides a very personal account of events and is not afraid to reveal some of the harsh realities of education under apartheid. Another book with a similar theme is M. J. Poynter's "Middleburg: Going to School in Apartheid South Africa." This novel is set during the 1980's and is surprisingly funny and entertaining to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago