Picks and Pans Review: Foe

updated 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by J.M. Coetzee

The South African author of The Life & Times of Michael K. and Waiting for the Barbarians has written another brilliant novel. While set in the distant past, it contains a meditation on the subject of freedom that is relevant in many parts of the world today. Susan Barton is a castaway on an island, where she is saved by a black man called Friday who takes her to his master, Robinson Cruso. The three live there for more than a year before a ship rescues them. On the way home to England, Cruso dies. The captain tells Susan she should sell her story to a writer, and she finds Daniel Foe. Before he can set her story down, he is beset by agents who would jail him for his debts. Susan writes to Foe about her adventures, and they become lovers. But Susan is burdened by her responsibility for the mute, listless Friday. She explains, "We have lived too close for love, Mr. Foe. Friday has grown to be my shadow. Do our shadows love us, for all that they are never parted from us?" While the author has found beautiful, elegiac language with which to tell his strange, often surreal tale, its subject is clear. This is a thought-provoking novel, extraordinarily well done. (Viking, $15.95)

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