Dusklands – Coetzee’s debut novel
Being Coetzee’s first work of fiction, Dusklands marks the signs of a debut work. It consists of two separate narratives set in different times and places, but united by a common theme of racist oppression. The first narrative is set in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. The U.S. is shown as a colonial power and the Vietnamese are shown to be suffering under its attacks. The protagonist is a captain, who sees the ‘truth’ and tries to convince the authorities to see it too, but predictably fails. Driven into frustration he kills his own son.
In the other narrative, a seventeenth century white explorer leads an expedition in the heart of the native territory. A petty incident is interpreted by him as an attack on the Empire and in a second attack he destroys the entire tribe, including his former servants.
The narratives are hard to read and it’s not easy to keep track of events, especially if we compare it with other works of Coetzee. Language is complex and the reader has certain difficulties in muddling through the text.
Coetzee’s vehement anti-Americanism shows the fervor of 1970s and Coetzee’s own youthful convictions. His leftist sympathies are clear and one feels that the parallels drawn between the apartheid regime of South Africa and the U.S. Government is forced and artificial.
First of all, the blacks have equal rights in the U.S. and the State does not discriminate against them. The apartheid regime had occupied the land of Africa, driven out the natives, killing indiscriminately and extirpating a lot of cultures and tribes. We have no such equivalent in Vietnam War. The U.S. did not kill innocent civilians. It did not displace people by transplanting American people on the Vietnamese land. It did not try to convert the natives.
Secondly, the Vietnam War was initiated by the Communists. Soviet Union and China were the clear aggressors. In a post-1945 world, they had blatantly tried to overrun a free country torturing and massacring thousands of locals who opposed the Communist invaders. The U.S. jumped in only to prevent another country becoming Communist. In the process, it saved Vietnam the pain of a nationwide cultural destruction, like of which China had to suffer during the Cultural Revolution. There were some tactical mistakes on the part of the U.S., but the Vietnam War was a Communist folly. The U.S. had to pay for a crime of communists. It was due to the heavily biased leftist media of the Cold War era, which through selective reporting turned the public opinion of Americans against their own country.
After failing to gain a foothold in Vietnam, KGB’s main focus was to slander America in which it succeeded. Many of the journalists and academicians were on the payroll of the Communists; many others with humanist concerns were swept away in the mass hysteria of 1970s anti-Americanism. Coetzee was one of such gullible humanists.
This work should be seen in this light; keeping in mind that the author had strong leftist sympathies and commitment when he wrote this work.