After writing three books praised for their vivid originality, the South African novelist J. M. Coetzee has produced a re-invention of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in which Crusoe, his man Friday, and Defoe himself comprise three-fifths of the new book’s characters. The idea is odd and bold; one expects Coetzee to turn this most familiar of adventure stories into another of his stark allegories about freedom and power, and wonders how he will do it. The author’s In the Heart of the Country (1977), Waiting for the Barbarians (1982), and Life & Times of Michael K (1984) are all nearly as brief as novellas, and all bear a load of thematic cargo that would shipwreck many larger volumes. Toe is equally brief and carries the same themes, along with the burden of the required allusions to and variations upon the classic Crusoe. Despite the talent Coetzee has...


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J. M. Coetzee
Penguin Books, 160 pages, $15.00

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