A fictionalized autobiography of the renowned writer's early years, growing up in a new development north of Cape Town. 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. 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 could he find a sense of belonging.
The hero, named John (as in John Michael Coetzee) and rendered in the third person and the present tense, is indeed a provincial boy, living, until a move late in the book, in a bleak, new but dusty housing estate outside the town of Worcester, north of Cape Town ... Excellent and deeply felt as the evocation is, it is something of what we expect from a memoir of a white southern African’s childhood, as are Coetzee’s accounts of his rather brutal schooling and his intimations of a precarious and unfair racial situation. Less usual is the dour flavor of the child’s complex self-awareness.
...admirers can now turn to Coetzee's terse, gritty memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life, which chronicles his childhood in a small city 90 miles from Cape Town in the 1940's and 50's ... Written in a third-person, present-tense voice that effaces adult perspective and lends harsh immediacy to the inner agonies of the child, the memoir explores a profound ambivalence about what in most respects looks like a routine middle-class boyhood.
...a fiercely revealing, bluntly unsentimental work that both creates a telling portrait of the artist as a young man and illuminates the hidden sources of his art ... This watchfulness, combined with a grandiosity -- he thinks of himself as special, capable of achieving whatever he wants to do -- will turn his heart 'dark and hard.' It will also make him into an observer and storyteller who will transform the raw hurt, fear and anxiety of his childhood into such remarkable works as Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K ... Though this book does not possess those novels' artistry or mythic power, it provides a potent emotional blueprint for them, even as it reveals how their creator became a writer to begin with.