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Authors: J.M. Coetzee


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M. Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940 and educated
in South Africa and in the United States as a computer scientist and
linguist. His novels include
the Heart of the Country
which won the premier South African literary award, the CNA Prize;
for the Barbarians
which was awarded the CNA Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize;
& Times of Michael K
which won the Booker Prize and the Prix Étranger Femina;
of Iron
which won the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award;
Master of Petersburg
which won the Irish Times International Fiction Prize;
which won the Booker Prize;
both longlisted for the Booker Prize; and
of a Bad Year
J. M. Coetzee also won the Jerusalem Prize in 1987 and a Lannan
Literary Award for Fiction in 1998. His other works include
translations, linguistic studies, literary criticism and three
volumes of memoir:
Scenes from Provincial Life
Scenes from Provincial Life II
which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 2003 he was awarded
the Nobel Prize in Literature. He lives in Australia.


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First published in
Great Britain by Martin Seeker & Warburg Ltd. 1986

First published in
the United States of America by Viking 1987

Published in
Penguin Books 1987

Reissued in this
edition 2010

J M. Coetzee, 1986 All rights reserved

The moral right of
the author has been asserted

is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either
are the product of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events or locales is entirely coincidental

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by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

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last I could row no further. My hands were blistered, my back was
burned, my body ached. With a sigh, making barely a splash, I slipped
overboard. With slow strokes, my long hair floating about me, like a
flower of the sea, like an anemone, like a jellyfish of the kind you
see in the waters of Brazil, I swam towards the strange island, for a
while swimming as I had rowed, against the current, then all at once
free of its grip, carried by the waves into the bay and on to the

I lay sprawled on the hot sand, my head filled with the orange blaze
of the sun, my petticoat (which was all I had escaped with) baking
dry upon me, tired, grateful, like all the saved.

dark shadow fell upon me, not of a cloud but of a man with a dazzling
halo about him. "Castaway," I said with my thick dry
tongue. "I am cast away. I am all alone." And I held out my
sore hands.

man squatted down beside me. He was black: a Negro with a head of
fuzzy wool, naked save for a pair of rough drawers. I lifted myself
and studied the flat face, the small dull eyes, the broad nose, the
thick lips, the skin not black but a dark grey, dry as if coated with
dust. "
I said, trying Portuguese, and made a sign of drinking. He gave no
reply, but regarded me as he would a seal or a porpoise thrown up by
the waves, that would shortly expire and might then be cut up for
food. At his side he had a spear. I have come to the wrong island, I
thought, and let my head sink: I have come to an island of cannibals.

reached out and with the back of his hand touched my arm. He is
trying my flesh, I thought. But by and by my breathing slowed and I
grew calmer. He smelled of fish, and of sheepswool on a hot day.

since we could not stay thus forever, I sat up and again began to
make motions of drinking. I had rowed all morning, I had not drunk
since the night before, I no longer cared if he killed me afterwards
so long as I had water.

Negro rose and signed me to follow. He led me, stiff and sore, across
sand-dunes and along a path ascending to the hilly interior of the
island. But we had scarcely begun to climb when I felt a sharp hurt,
and drew from my· heel a long black-tipped thorn. Though I
chafed it, the heel quickly swelled till I could not so much as
hobble for the pain. The Negro offered me his back, indicating he
would carry me. I hesitated to accept, for he was a slight fellow,
shorter than I. But there was no help for it. So part-way skipping on
one leg, part-way riding on his back, with my petticoat gathered up
and my chin brushing his springy hair, I ascended the hillside, my
fear of him abating in this strange backwards embrace. He took no
heed where he set his feet, I noted, but crushed under his soles
whole clusters of the thorns that had pierced my skin.

readers reared on travellers' tales, the words
may conjure up a place of soft sands and shady trees where brooks run
to quench the castaway's thirst and ripe fruit falls into his hand,
where no more is asked of him than to drowse the days away till a
ship calls to fetch him home. But the island on which I was cast away
was quite another place: a great rocky hill with a flat top, rising
sharply from the sea on all sides except one, dotted with drab bushes
that never flowered and never shed their leaves. Off the island grew
beds of brown seaweed which, borne ashore by the waves, gave off a
noisome stench and supported swarms of large pale fleas. There were
ants scurrying everywhere, of the same kind we had in Bahia, and
another pest, too, living in the dunes: a tiny insect that hid
between your toes and ate its way into the flesh. Even Friday's hard
skin was not proof against it: there were bleeding cracks in his
feet, though he paid them no heed .. I saw no snakes, but lizards
came out in the heat of the day to sun themselves, some small and
agile, others large and clumsy, with blue ruffs about their gills
which they would flare out when alarmed, and hiss, and glare. I
caught one of them in a bag and tried to tame it, feeding it flies;
but it would not take dead meat, so at last I set it free. Also there
were apes (of whom I will say more later) and birds, birds
everywhere: not only flocks of sparrows (or so I called them) that
flitted all day chirruping from bush to bush, but on the cliffs above
the sea great tribes of gulls and mews and gannets and cormorants, so
that the rocks were white with their droppings. And in the sea
porpoises and seals and fish of all kinds. So if the company of
brutes had been enough for me, I might have lived most happily on my
island. But who, accustomed to the fullness of human speech, can be
content with caws and chirps and screeches, and the barking of seals,
and the moan of the wind?

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