A genial, often riveting exchange of letters between American novelist Auster (Winter Journal, 2010, etc.) and the South African (now an Australian citizen) Nobel laureate Coetzee (Scenes from Provincial Life, 2012, etc.).
Although Coetzee, 72, is seven years older than Auster, the two writers and friends have many things in common—a fascination with sports (not always the same ones), liberal politics, a sadness about the decline of the book, a love of travel and language, admiration for their spouses and a willingness to respond thoughtfully and respectfully to issues the other correspondent raises. There are some features missing that readers will expect: an introduction explaining the genesis of their friendship and the idea for the publication; an explanation of why the letters stopped (or have they stopped?); annotations. But the bounties cancel cavils. Both acknowledge the importance of admiration in friendship, an observation that leads them into a recurring discussion about sports. Auster writes powerfully (here and elsewhere) about baseball; Coetzee enjoys tennis and writes admiringly of Roger Federer. The letters are not heavily literary. There are some discussions of Beckett, Dostoyevsky and Derrida, but nothing too cerebral. Auster muses about how critics jumped him for his portrayal of an older man’s sexual affair with a 17-year-old in Sunset Park but had little to say about the incest in his Invisible. Coetzee speculates that American poetry has declined; Auster effectively and respectfully counters. There are also quotidian concerns—travel plans, food, sleep habits, etc. Auster periodically raves about his wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, and talks a little about the writing of Winter Journal. The authors also discuss films (a passion for both), and we learn that Auster is a bit of a Luddite—he uses a typewriter and has no cellphone, and the writers exchanged many of these letters via fax machine.
Amiable and revealing missives from two remarkable minds.