Life and Times of Michael K. by J. M. Coetzee (Athena)

Set in South Africa, this 1983 Booker Prize Winner by Nobel Laureate (2003) J. M. Coetzee is about a man surviving amidst war, civil unrest, and poverty. There are no chapters, but three sections divide book. The first covers more than 2/3 of the novel. The plot is one of the most depressing I have read in a long time. The prose is stark and observant. Michael K. is a mysterious yet simple character at the same time. The novel makes you ask a lot of questions about the setting, the characters, and the overall meaning and moral of this novel. It was a quick read at 249pages. The writing was bare, but there were some wonderful lines:
I come from a line of children of no end.

Another excerpt:
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 it interior life...An unbearing, unborn creature.

There is doubtlessly a lot of criticism and interpretation of this work. There seems to be debates about Michael's race/ethnicity. Is he black or white? There were indications in the book that he goes either way, but Michael himself does not seem to see race. Michael's intelligence or intellectual capabilities are questioned. He does not seem to have much of a sex drive, and his upbringing lacked intimacy or any fun. Finally, the setting is almost dystopian and some critics debate about the actual time of the book. It's hard to say if I liked it or how soon I will pick up another of Coetzee's work again, but it was fascinating read.

(Cross posted from my blog Aquatique)


Rebecca Reid said...

I was confused for a while too as to when it took place and only figured it out after I finished it and was looking at South African history and trying to place it. I read in a review that it was a "futuristic civil war". So futuristic for 1983 South Africa means still apartheid when the civil war broke out.

Naba Thapa said...

Even the authority looking for his identity, Michael k is economic deprivation. for the michael k there is not worried about the cast , there are worried about the money and escape from the prison.

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