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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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English (47)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  All (51)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
As much as I loved Disgrace, Coetzee impressed me more with this novel. Michael K was born with a hare lip and a simple mind, and so spent much of his life as an outcast. While South Africa is struggling through a civil war, Michael K sets out to take his dying mother back to her childhood home. Along the way his mother dies, leaving him alone. He eventually makes his way to an abandoned farm in the countryside, and there proceeds to enjoy the simple process of planting and harvesting food. Despite this, he nearly starves and ends up in a work camp. Here is where the narrative shifts from Michael to the doctor treating him for malnutrition, and we see the doctor’s concern and fascination with Michael and his desire to be free to live as he wants. This book astonished me with its examination of the human spirit and simple human dignity. This is one of my favorite books of all time. ( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
Wonderful book which had me emotional in places as Michael K navigates his life. Especially enjoyed the contrast between his simple and harmless place in the world and the harshness of the world. ( )
  kale.dyer | Apr 20, 2017 |
Not fully convinced by this novel. The character of Michael K is ambiguous, dumb and slow of mind at times, then able to sophisticated reasoning at others, which seems unplausible. The first part, about 70% of the book, lacks the urgency and sense of direction of Coetzee's best work. The main philosophy that comes to my mind is that K has reinvented the philosophy of Voltaire's Candide: il fault cultiver son jardin. Our goal in life is to mind our own business, to cultivate our own garden instead of mingling with other peoples affaires. But K as a character is not that clear cut. The best part of the novel is the second where a doctor of a rehabilitation camp becomes obsessed with K and tries to make sense of him. What is Coetzee trying to tell us? That society always corrupts the individual and so it is best to live as a hermit? ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Towards the end of the novel--which takes place in the midst of South Africa's civil war--a "rehabilitation" camp Doctor announces that the emaciated Michael K (an unremarkable, cleft-lipped gardener) serves as an allegory of "how scandalously, how outrageously a meaning can take up residence in a system without becoming a term in it." In other words, Michael K, through his principle-less inactivity, inadvertently becomes the symbol of Resistance.

This is a common feature of Coetzee's work: a character arrives en scene to deliver the moral of the story (in case we may have missed it!). And to Coetzee's credit that moral rarely feels condescending or moralizing, but philosophical. Other Coetzee tropes or preoccupations also appear in this novel: his near-allergy to coding characters by skin color/race; the denunciation of violence; related: an aversion to the killing of animals under even the most dire of circumstances; the individual search for meaning in a world gone mad and meaningless; the driving desire for unsullied space and land for one to call one's own.

There's no doubt as to Coetzee's literary master-status, and The Life and Times of Michael K is no exception. However, I found this book more plodding, less vivid, and less powerful than Barbarian at the Gates, Disgrace, or Elizabeth Costello. Still, it's worth the read. Coetzee at his least gripping is still better than most novelists can hope for. ( )
  reganrule | Jun 9, 2016 |
Michael is a gardener. This is all he knows, other than the relationship with his mother. The pair live in Cape Town South Africa and when the war breaks out they decide to leave the city for the place of her birth. However, they are stopped many times and made to turn back before Michael takes the trip into his own hands.

This book is once again a 1001 lister. I'm not sure how I feel about it, I didn't hate it but didn't love it either. I'm on the fence about this one. I liked the persistence and determination that Michael demonstrated however, there weren't a lot of action senses to really keep you engaged. This is a book that I'm unsure of if I would recommend it or if I would say read at your own discretion, however, a fast read none the less. ( )
  welkeral | Mar 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
But in spite of such pleasures, I have serious doubts. My main concern is Michael K himself. He's more of a plot device than a real man, and we are constantly reminded how simple Michael is, and how little he understands .
added by Nickelini | editThe Guardian, Sam Jordison (Jun 16, 2009)
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 editionscalculated
Aguiar, João Baptista da CostaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baiocchi, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
BascoveCover artistsecondary 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)

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