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Life & Times of Michael K (1983)

by J. M. Coetzee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,430614,337 (3.79)212
In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his 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. Life and Times of Michael K goes to the centre 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. 'This is a truly astonishing novel... I finished Life & Times of Michael K in a state of elation, for all the misery and suffering it contains. I cannot recommend it highly enough' Evening Standard… (more)
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» See also 212 mentions

English (57)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
The story began as a dramatic dystopian tale of danger and desperation but transitioned into a nightmarish tale of imprisonment and lassitude. A bleak, depressing story of Michael’s fight for freedom and identity. ( )
  Misprint | Aug 31, 2020 |
Absolutely superb. A trial by life of an unsuspecting anti-hero who never belonged to this world, told through tales of internment and exile during the South African civil crisis. Smooth reading and truly touching. ( )
  ephemeral_future | Aug 20, 2020 |
A bleak, austere work from a master fiction writer. Coetzee conjures up a book that is part-allegory, part-captivating fiction, and part-news article. His vision of a wartorn South Africa in the mid-to-late 20th century is stark, with not a word out of place. Coetzee takes us to the essence of man, but also to the lives of low, rough individuals, caught by circumstance and cruel society. It's a reminder of the challenges facing people at the bottom of the pecking order, and the unrealistic expectations held by the rest of us towards them. But also an effective, scathing portrait of a society torn at every angle. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
From the first moment of life, Michael K was dealt a bad hand. Inflicted with a hare lip, his mother kept him from other children so she could avoid hearing their whispers and mockery. Because it was believed he was mentally deficient, he was enrolled in a state school where he was taught the basics as well as a trade.
Through to his 31st year he seemed content living with his sickly mother and working as a gardener. His mother's illness and South Africa's civil war disrupts his solitary life which through trials and tribulations begins to take on new meaning for him. The journey he must take changes him physically, mentally and spiritually. The journey the reader succumbs to is somewhat similar. Coetzee's writing style is simple yet powerful and one can not help but be moved by Michael's circumstances. Highly recommend. ( )
  Carmenere | Dec 29, 2019 |
I liked this book. Honestly I can't tell you why apart from the reason that it was interesting to learn how the main character found his way in life. Learn about the events in his adult life, that is, because his childhood days are not but briefly mentioned.

Nothing spectacilar happens and still this book succeeded in keeping me interested.

The only thing I disliked a lot was that the narrator used funny voices for the characters. That Michael talks differently, well ojay, but why for the army men, the docter, his mother... That was very annoying. ( )
1 vote BoekenTrol71 | Dec 1, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (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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Epigraph
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.
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his 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. Life and Times of Michael K goes to the centre 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. 'This is a truly astonishing novel... I finished Life & Times of Michael K in a state of elation, for all the misery and suffering it contains. I cannot recommend it highly enough' Evening Standard

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