Coetzee’s novel Age of Iron is perhaps one of his most gripping and politically-charged works concerning the turmoil of South African history. Elizabeth Curren is the protagonist who narrates the novel, which she addresses as an extended letter to her estranged daughter living comfortably in America with her husband and family. Widowed and dying of cancer, Ms. Curren’s voice takes on a heartbroken and disillusioned tone as she recounts her memories and experiences of the wasted chance of life for her embattled country during the age of apartheid. Ms. Curren witnesses the horrifying reality of bloodshed and unrest that inevitably infiltrates her home as her devoted housekeeper's young son, Bheki, succumbs to the activist violence of the period. The only confidant she has among the encroaching madness comes from a homeless man, an alcoholic named Vercureil. In trying to impart a morality on Vercureil, her helplessness and anger deepen as she also tries to convince Bheki and his friend to abandon their allegiance to activism, which the police prey upon. Coetzee depicts the mindset of the boys as afflicted. He shows how the younger generation’s blind and obsessive devotion to a cause greater than their selves hardens them into an iron-like commitment to die fighting for justice. Coetzee conveys how they see their lives as expendable, ready to be sacrificed in death for the cause of resistance. Coetzee offers a dismal, although entirely truthful, picture of the misery and injustice that fuels selfless acts of rebellion. Once again, he has confronted the social evils of his homeland using prose that bristles with insight and a story that generates heart-wrenching remorse.
A highly restricted vocabulary; much use of repetition, often used in consecutive sentences, eg., "I need... I need... I need..." and "Let me tell... Let me tell... Let me tell...". The story itself is a bit odd: a dying professor is writing letters to her daughter in the U.S.A. (this is the form that most of the narration occurs) and she finds a homeless man on her property, and eventually in her garage, and eventually in her own bed, meanwhile the country (South Africa) is in a state of mild civil war and her maid's son and his friend are involved in the struggle against the government.
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