Life & Times of Michael K

Life & Times of Michael K

Book - 1984
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In a South Africa turned by war, Michael K. sets out to take his ailing mother back to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in an anarchic world of brutal roving armies. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity. This life affirming novel goes to the center of human experience-the need for an interior, spiritual life; for some connections to the world in which we live; and for purity of vision.
Publisher: New York : Viking Press, 1984, c1983.
ISBN: 9780670427895
Characteristics: 184 pages ; 23 cm.


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Oct 22, 2019

Michael K, born with a cleft lip that is never corrected and deemed a "slow learner," has lived a life with few human connections. A childhood in an institution and then a city job as a gardener have not prepared him for life outside of what he knows, and he, by default, knows so little. He is surrounded by war and civil unrest. When his mother becomes unwell he makes the decision to try to go to the countryside with her. When she dies, Michael is truly alone and adrift. This book follows his journey as he tries to navigate his way through violence, various forms of imprisonment, tastes of freedom, and, most importantly, his interior and spiritual evolution.

Michael K, because of his physical difference and learning disability, has many assumptions made about him, and he makes them about himself without being aware of doing so. His society deems him to be less valuable than others and for most of his life he has been sort of half-asleep. Really, he is gifted in some ways, but ways that few people recognize.

Coetzee is an extraordinary writer and does a stellar job of illuminating an awakening consciousness, the formations of desire, the importance of purpose and fulfillment and the often pointless chaos of war. A sad, beautiful, deeply moving book. I will always remember the life of Michael K.

RogerDeBlanck Jul 27, 2018

In Coetzee's powerful novel, Life and Times of Michael K, the title character is a young mentally-challenged man who works as a manual laborer. He is caught within the turmoil of race relations and bloodshed during a South African civil war, which is augured as sometime in the future. K’s lonely, solemn life tries to etch out a personal refuge amid the chaos and instability that ravish the country. With the use of glowing, beautiful prose, Coetzee examines K’s suffering through a dreamlike state where K somehow finds ways of escaping the violence in order to establish a quiet identity for himself. K’s quest for normalcy and solace embodies an entire generation’s hopes for peace.

May 26, 2018

Michael is a gardener. To sow seed and care for growing things is what he knows, and what he wants. Unfortunately, meek Michael is constantly in danger of being trampled into the dust. Born with a harelip which caused him to be rejected by his mother - at least, until age and poverty made her dependent on him - and raised in an orphanage, what Michael wants most of all is to be left to fend for himself, free from those who would help him as well as those who would exploit him. The State is, needless to say, his unnatural enemy, preoccupied as it is with official papers, civil wars, and labor camps. Yet he does not reject all human society, to the contrary, he longs to live with others who are willing to receive what is offered them rather than forcing the world to give them what they want.

Much of The Life and Times of Michael K makes for dreary reading, immersed as it is in Michael's own perspective, knowing little of the ways of the world and yet understanding enough for tragedy. In the end, this makes the book, and its protagonist, that much harder to ignore or forget.

Oct 03, 2017

The style - precis narrative (Roth and Babel are the earlier exemplars) - fits this story rather well. I found the essay-istic part 2 the best, especially the passage starting on page 149.

May 04, 2015

South African writer J.M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003. Along with "Waiting for the Barbarians" and "Disgrace," this is his best known book. I assume the "K" in the title is an allusion to Kafka's "The Trial."

Mar 17, 2015

As stark and heartbreaking as ‘The Pearl,’ as enriching and life affirming as ‘The Alchemist,’ this is a parable of the highest literary caliber. Coetzee’s meditation on innocence, war, and the power of natural freedom is poetic, profound, and simply breathtaking.

brianreynolds Jun 04, 2012

<i>The Life & Times of Michael K</i> by J.M. Coetzee, without once mentioning Apartheid or noting the skin colour of the characters, explores what it means to be, not black or white, but human. Bit by bit the extraneous is stripped away from Michael K. His job, his family, his home, his possessions, his freedom, his nourishment. Even the nature of his offence to that which governs him, even his name is lost in the chaos and turmoil of the conflict that surrounds him. He becomes "a walking skeleton" as much out of choice as by circumstance; he is imprisoned without reason; he is pronounced dead for the convenience of others. A Twentieth Century Job, he maintains the ability to hope, to dream, to survive, to seek the nature of his essence. This is a story of endurance. Of faith, not in a god or in mankind, but in one's personal humanity, that there is something left when all else seems to be gone. This is a book of extraordinary and extravagant ideas, a book less about the historical conflict in South Africa than about the survival of the human spirit. It doesn't whine. It doesn't rage or lay blame though at times one wonders how it can bite its tongue in the midst of so much injustice and pain. It is a story of pride and dignity in the face of adversity, and as such it reads more often than not like a parable. This is one those rare books that is told with such plainness a twelve-year old could say the words aloud and know what is happening, while at the same time a doctorate in philosophy would be handy in plumbing its depths. Simply, it is a book that humbled me both as a writer and a reader.


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Oct 21, 2019

"He is like a stone, a pebble that, having lain around quietly minding its own business since the dawn of time, is now suddenly picked up and tossed randomly from hand to hand. A hard little stone, barely aware of its surroundings, enveloped in itself and its interior life."

Oct 21, 2019

"He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant-feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust."

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