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JM Coetzee Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature - 2003-10-02

South African writer JM Coetzee has won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy, which awarded the prize, praised Mr. Coetzee's works for what it called their well-crafted composition and analytical brilliance.

John Maxwell Coetzee, whose novels and essays are characterized by a bleak vision of his racially divided homeland, is the second South African author to win the Nobel Prize. Nadine Gordimer received the award in 1991.

Mr. Coetzee was the first writer to win Britain's prestigious Booker Prize twice, first for The Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 and, again, for Disgrace in 1999.

But the publicity-shy author has long been skittish about the attention of the media and stayed away from the awards ceremony on both occasions.

Mr. Coetzee's main characters are often innocents or outcasts who are overwhelmed by historical forces over which they have no influence. South Africa's former apartheid system of separating the races is a recurring theme in his works.

The Swedish Academy praised Mr. Coetzee for his intellectual honesty, noting that the author has been, in its words, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality in western civilization.

The academy, in announcing the $1.3 million award, also noted that, although Mr. Coetzee makes the distinction between right and wrong crystal clear, he also portrays it as being ultimately pointless.

Mr. Coetzee was born in Cape Town to an English-speaking family of Afrikaaner background. Though he has spent most of his life in South Africa, he studied and worked in the United States and Britain and emigrated to Australia two years ago.

His novels include Waiting for the Barbarians and Dusklands as well as his latest work of fiction, Elizabeth Costello. He has also written essays on such topics as rugby and censorship.

The literature prize is the first of the Nobels to be awarded this year. In the days ahead, the Swedish Academy will announce the winners of the medicine, physics, chemistry and economics prizes. On October 10, the Norwegian Academy will announce the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.