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Life & Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee

Life & Times of Michael K (1983)

by J. M. Coetzee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 179 mentions

English (41)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This is one of those magical books that will change you, at least temporarily. When I finished it there was a time where I felt less need. ( )
  Lukerik | Oct 20, 2015 |
" The grain of his sentences is flat and austere, but also so purifying to the senses that one comes away feeling that one's eye has been sharpened, one's hearing vivified

To Michael K at the start of the journey, brutality and danger and stiffness of limb and rain seem all the same; tyranny feels as natural an ordeal as the harshness of the road. "

from A TALE OF HEROIC ANONYMITY (December 11, 1983, NYTimes Sunday Book Review, Cynthia Ozick)

"here is a man who is alone, more alone than I have ever been … Because here's the thing. I have a family and I have friends and if somehing happens to me they care. And I have this government that would give me money if I had none. And when I was sick I got the best medical care around, and it was free, because there's this attitude here that I matter and that everyone matters enough to deserve the same. And then there is Michael K, who doesn't matter to anyone, and all he wants to do is be left alone, but the establishment can't even do that. "

from C. (placematsgalore) on goodreads

Yes, many echoes of the escape artist, of The Hunger Artist, of much more of Kafka, of Bartleby, Being There, etc

Not many people seem to like the three shifts of perspective. My own reading is that they were requisite to the structure of the narrative as the enactment of the content. The feeling of Coetzee himself resisting the character & the tyranny of the writing gives the misleading sense that it is a junior effort, rather than a profound, incandescent awkwardness. ( )
  cancione | Jan 17, 2015 |
What an awesome book by an amazingly talented author. This is a story of a young man who despite the war all around him is determined to live his life his own way and the country that opposes him. ( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |
Why, oh why, can't Coetzee just write a book and let his readers interpret it for him? Why does this book need a commentary by an educated, guilty feeling doctor? Of course, to remind us that 'interpretation' is 'violence' and that it can never reach the 'real' thing, just as Friday has no tongue , and the Magistrate can't 'know' the 'traces' of torture on the girl, and Lucy's story is hers and can't be known by her father and so on and on and on world without end. If you believe that all this 'you can never know the real of Michael K' stuff is really just a smokescreen to fool the world into thinking that there is something to Michael K, you're missing out. But if you don't at least suspect that all this agnosticism-qua-people is a smokescreen, well, I don't know. Maybe you should read more critically, and think about how meaningless terms like 'authentic self' and 'real you' really are.

That said, Michael K is a great character in the tradition of Crusoe, Dostoevsky's idiot and various saints. That makes the book well worth reading. It does not, as many critics and reviewers seem to think, make him a role-model.

Also interesting to read this in the context of C's later work, which seems to endorse a morality of empathy: that the world would be a better place if we put ourselves in the shoes of other people, other animals and so on. That's probably true. But you can't have it both ways. Either we can more or less put ourselves in other beings' shoes; or they are ultimately unknowable and ought not to be violated by our disgusting interpretive techniques. Interesting that the later novels - which aren't even close to as good as this, or Barbarians, or Dusklands and so on - have the more cogent philosophical background. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I feel like this book went right past me.
We follow Michael K., who leaves town with his sick mother to try and find the farm in which she grew up, and live there and not know poverty. Michael seems to be at least somewhat idiotic. He goes through various struggles and meets different people without seeming to grasp fully what is happening to him, and focuses only on his search for the farm.
This book therefore felt to me like something of a fable, and there must be some profound meaning to derive from watching this man struggle without caring for the society around him, but it eluded me.
Another reason why this book's meaning may have been lost on me is my lack of knowledge about South Africa. The book describes a seemingly dictatorial regime, but I can't tell if this is supposed to be realistic or if this is fictionised, for the purpose of writing a fable. ( )
  chlorine | Jul 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
And so J.M. Coetzee has written a marvelous work that leaves nothing unsaid—and could not be better said—about what human beings do to fellow human beings in South Africa; but he does not recognize what the victims, seeing themselves as victims no longer, have done, are doing, and believe they must do for themselves. Does this prevent his from being a great novel? My instinct is to say a vehement "No." But the organicism that George Lukács defines as the integral relation between private and social destiny is distorted here more than is allowed for by the subjectivity that is in every writer. The exclusion is a central one that may eat out the heart of the work's unity of art and life.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer (pay site) (Feb 2, 1984)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. M. Coetzeeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aguiar, João Baptista da CostaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baiocchi, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergsma, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brunse, NielsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dominik, PavelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernandes, RicardoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forsberg, PiaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giachino, EnzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greiff, AudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Konikowska, MagdalenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loponen, SeppoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manella, ConchaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayoux, SophieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preis, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ross, KárolyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siqueira, José RubensTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stoepman gvn, FritsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Teichmann, WulfÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Udina, DolorsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Бужаровска… РуменаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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War is the father of all and king of all.
Some he shows as gods, others as men.
Some he makes slaves, and others free.
First words
The first thing the midwife noticed about Michael K when she helped him out of his mother into the world was that he had a hare lip.
He fetched the box of ashes from the house, set it in the middle of the rectangle, and say down to wait. He did not know what he expected; whatever it was, it did not happen. A beetle scurried across the ground. The wind blew. There was a cardboard box standing in the sunlight on a patch of baked mud, nothing more. There was another step, apparently, that he had to take but could not yet imagine.
Twelve men eat six bags of potatoes. Each bag holds six kilograms of potatoes. What is the quotient. He saw himself write down 12, he saw himself write down 6. He did not know what to do with the numbers. He crossed both out. He stared at the word quotient. It did not change, it did not dissolve, it did not yield its mystery. I will die, he thought, still not knowing what the quotient is.
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. He passes through these institutions and camps and hospitals and God knows what else like a stone. Through the intestines of the war. An unbearing, unborn creature. I cannot really think of him as a man…
[Your stay in the camp] was an allegory – speaking at the highest level – of how scandalously, how outrageously a meaning can take up residence in a system without becoming a term in it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140074481, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In South Africa, whose civil administration is collapsing under the pressure of years of civil strife, an obscure young gardener named Michael K decides to take his mother on a long march away from the guns towards a new life in the abandoned countryside. Everywhere he goes however, the war follows him. Tracked down and locked up as a collaborator with the rural guerrillas, he embarks on a fast that angers, baffles, and finally awes his captors. The story of Michael K is the story of a man caught up in a war beyond his understanding, but determined to live his life, however minimally, on his own terms.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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