Only the Big Questions

A South African writer reflects on his country's new Nobel laureate

J.M. Coetzee almost never gives interviews, so I counted myself very lucky when he granted me an audience in the early 1990s. We met in his office in Cape Town, the novelist a pale and austere presence in his tweeds and corduroys, and I under strict instructions from his agent to avoid questions about the son who fell from a balcony, the ex-wife who died of cancer and the manner in which these private tragedies might have influenced his most recent writings. We were to talk only of literature, but my opening question was greeted by dead silence. Coetzee was writing...

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