In J M Coetzee’s most famous novel, Disgrace (1999), the whites of post-apartheid South Africa are forced to accept the violence coming to them. Violence is the inescapable consequence of racist cruelties perpetrated by colonial ancestors like Jacobus Coetzee, who pressed into the north-western Cape in the 1760s – scene of Coetzee’s first work, Dusklands (1974). Now, in Summertime, the superb third volume of the novelist’s Scenes from Provincial Life, Jacobus reappears, his historical existence verified by the writer’s future ‘biographer’.
Summertime opens with a report of a scene in Botswana in 1972, when the Special Branch, the terrorists of the apartheid regime, kill and burn a group of South African refugees. This atrocity initiates a series of diary entries by a pained John Coetzee, then in his early