Extract from John Coetzee’s Launch Speech
‘I had not heard of a new book to be named After Romulus until, a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Michael Heyward asking me if I would speak at the launch in Adelaide.
I agreed, but with misgivings. I looked upon Romulus, My Father as one of those miraculous books that write themselves, that use their author as a medium, a means to get into the world. Once they are in the world books like that have an unpredictable life of their own. It didn’t seem to me there was anything to be gained by the author-medium belatedly chasing after it, trying to catch and tame it. I feared that this new book, After Romulus, would chase after Romulus My Father, in a futile quest to tame it, to bring it to order and explain what it meant.
Then I read the book Michael sent me, and at once I saw how wrong I was. At the heart of After Romulus lies the tribute that Gaita had not been able to write when he was writing the tribute to his father – had not been able to write because, as we learn, he had not at the time of Romulus, My Father been able to master the feelings that memories of his mother summoned up, or, to put it in more writerly terms, had not been able to find the voice in which to speak that tribute.
Now that tribute comes, in the form of a long essay called “An Unassuageable Longing,” the most personal and most poignant of the five essays that make up the new book.
This essay, and the essay devoted to the later lives of personages we meet with in Romulus, My Father, are in more or less narrative vein. Of the remaining essays, two are denser in texture, more recognizably philosophical in their concerns, though never difficult or abstruse – Gaita’s writing, including his academic writing, has always been a model of clarity.
A book launch is not the right occasion to go in depth into such rich, mature pieces of writing as these, so let me just say that they address some of the great moral issues in any examined life, issues to which the young Raimond Gaita was introduced by his father and his father’s friend Hora back in the 1950s.
One of the features of Gaita as a philosopher is his interest in embodied values, in an ethical truth that lives in the world. It is not because he preaches certain values but because he embodies certain values that the unlettered blacksmith Romulus Gaita comes to serve as a lifelong moral compass to his son and, via his son, to many more of us.’