This is my second book by Coetzee after reading Disgrace. It is very different from Disgrace being a sort of Kafkaesque parable. It is about a magistrate that administers a sleepy backwater for the Empire. There are Barbarians outside the gates. The Magistrate eventually comes to sympathize with the Barbarians and is destroyed and then abandoned by the Empire.
It is a critique of the Imperial enterprise set in a generic everywhere that asks who are the civilizes and who are the Barbarians. That could make it a simple minded work of anti-colonialism, but it is anything but. The main character is very well drawn. The destructive paranoia of the Empire that turns the Barbarians into enemies and then immolates itself against them is brilliant.
In general the exploration of oppression, power and complicit is superb. What I would want in a book is the ability to set any anti-colonial narrative in a wider human context and that is exactly what happens here. The prose is wonderful and powerful and the whole work is affecting and so filled with ideas that one hardly knows where to start. In some sense, it is most of all about humans inability to connect with one another.
Coetzee is almost a genius. Almost, but not quite. Nothing is really wrong here, and I have no critique of the book, but it is not quite a five star book.