Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Een Manier van Vriendschap: the Correspondence of JM Coetzee and Paul Auster (in Dutch)

A highlight of last year’s Kingston WritersFest was when JM Coetzee and Paul Auster took to the stage to read from an upcoming collaborative work, a collection of their correspondences.

Een manier van vriendschapThis collection is shortly to be released in Dutch, under the title Een manier van vriendschap: Brieven 2008-2011, jointly published by De Arbeiderspers and Uitgeverij Cossee. The English title will be Here and Now.

With Een Manier van Vriendschap, Coetzee and Auster – who previously collaborated on Volume IV of the Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition – aimed to created a kind of “infinite dialogue”, or unbroken conversation. The correspondence, which includes themes from coping with vicious reviews and Christmas dinners to Franz Kafka, centres around the friendship forged between the two writers. In one of his final letters to Auster, Coetzee remarks “[W]e are real friends now. We may also be blood brothers, if you wish. With a real ceremonial mixing of blood next time when we see each other.”

We look forward to the release of the collection in English. In the meantime, test your Dutch with this book blurb:

Ze hebben elkaars boeken altijd met grote waardering gelezen, maar ze hadden elkaar nog nooit ontmoet. Dat veranderde toen Paul Auster samen met zijn echtgenote, de schrijfster Siri Hustvedt, uitgenodigd werd voor het Adelaide Literary Festival in Australië. Niet lang na zijn terugkeer in Brooklyn ontving Auster een brief van Coetzee:

‘Ik wil je een voorstel doen dat je wel of niet zal interesseren. Zou je iets gezamenlijks willen doen dat wat meer om het lijf heeft dan onze bijdragen aan de Beckett-editie? Ik heb nooit eerder met iemand samengewerkt… maar met jou, denk ik, zou het plezierig kunnen zijn, en misschien zouden we zelfs, als God het wil, vonken op elkaar kunnen laten overslaan. Als het je in principe een goed idee lijkt, zou ik wel met een paar voorstellen kunnen komen. Het lijkt me één manier om een vriendschap gestalte te geven als men ver van elkaar verwijderd is.’

~ ~ ~

A good friend of Books LIVE’s was kind enough to offer his translation:

They have always read each other’s books with great appreciation but they had never met. That changed when Paul Auster and his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt, were invited to the Adelaide Literary Festival in Australia. Not long after his return to Brooklyn, Auster received a letter from Coetzee:

‘I want to make a proposal to you that will, or will not, interest you. Would you like to do something together that is a bit more substantial than our contributions to the Beckett edition? I have never worked together with someone… but with you, I think, it could be fun, and maybe we would even, God willing, strike sparks off each other. If you consider it a good idea, I could come up with a few proposals. It seems to me one way to shape a friendship when one is far apart.’

Paul Auster was intrigued. In his reply to Coetzee, he proposed an infinite dialogue that could be on every possible topic or theme … on everything that was interesting to both. ‘In fact, a discussion as we would have it if we lived in the same city.’

After two years, the period they agreed on, Paul Auster wrote: ‘The thought to stop now, makes me sad; after two years, I see in you a friend, with whom I don’t want to lose contact.’ To which Coetzee replied: ‘Of course we are real friends now. We may also be blood brothers, if you wish. With a real ceremonial mixing of blood next time when we see each other.’

It seems no coincidence that this special exchange of thoughts, ideas and beliefs begins with a discussion of friendship.

Themes of the correspondence include:

friendship • childhood • sports on TV • language and precision • first impressions while travelling • banking crisis • coping with vicious reviews • immigration • winning and losing • names • the “sustainability” of poetry • street names • anti-semitism • Israel and Palestine • interviews • sports statistics • translations • South Africa • the responsibility of the author for his characters • Franz Kafka • Christmas dinners • insomnia

Book details

Photo courtesy Quill & Quire


Please register or log in to comment