History in ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’

J.M. Coetzee sets the story of Waiting for the Barbarians far from the center of its fictional empire, yet the “history” of the Empire is powerfully present in the desert outpost town. The novel’s narrator, the Magistrate, ruminates on his attachments to this history and he desires escape.

In a book about obscure desires, it is this desire alone that is rendered with perfect clarity — the Magistrate wants to break free of the culturally determined perspectives of the Empire.