Books: Friday Night FOE

by J.M. Coetzee Viking; 157 pages; $15.95

Robinson Crusoe, apotheosis of the desert island castaway, throws one of the longest shadows in literature. For more than two centuries, he and his black companion Friday have provoked countless imitations, parodies, cartoons and advertisements. But from the earliest days, in addition to the parasol and firearm, the beachcombers have also carried some heavy moral baggage. Rousseau considered Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel vital to the education of ambitious youth; Coleridge regarded Crusoe as the "universal representative"; and Karl Marx found the plot an illustration of basic economics.

J.M. Coetzee, a widely praised South African writer (Waiting for the Barbarians, Life &...

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