Age of Iron

Coetzee, J. M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Feb-18-1997


Mrs. Curren, a retired classics professor in Cape Town, South Africa, is dying of cancer. The novel is in the form of an extended letter to her only daughter who has fled apartheid and lives in the United States. During her final days, Mrs. Curren takes in a homeless alcoholic man who appears on her doorstep. Her housekeeper's son Bheki is involved in an uprising. While helping his mother search for him, Mrs. Curren witnesses the burning of a black township and discovers the boy's bullet-ridden body.

Later, Bheki's friend, who seeks refuge at her house, is killed there by government security forces. In anger and despair, Mrs. Curren is forced to confront the "age of iron" apartheid has wrought. Her only companion in all this is the alcoholic drifter, who agrees (or does he?) to send this last letter to her daughter.


In coming to grips with her own cancer, the dying woman in this novel encounters the social and cultural "cancer" of South Africa. Just as her daughter has separated herself physically from the abomination of apartheid, Mrs. Curren, and most of the white population have separated themselves emotionally, unaware of injustice and the rage it generates.


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count