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

Booker Prize-winning Life and Times of Michael K by Nobel-prizing winning J.M. Coetzee was a challenging but rewarding read for me.

In the midst of a futuristic South African civil war, Michael K lives to survive, and that is all. He has no wants and needs other than to be left alone. I spent the first portion of the book feeling sorry for Michael, who was born with a cleft lip and is alternately pitied and despised as he tries to find a bit of earth were he might live in peace. In the end, however, I found that facing the charity of the world was Michael’s greatest struggle of all, and I had succumbed to pitying him just as had those he met. Michael didn’t want to be different from anyone else.

Life and Times of Michael K was written in very straight-forward language that was both intriguing to read and challenging to embrace, leaving me with mixed feelings about this book. However, the writing perfectly matched the character of Michael K and properly told his story. Michael K’s story is the story of a human searching for himself and his purpose on the earth. Just as the language was both a challenge and a reprieve to read, the story of Michael’s life is both depressing and inspiring.

Life and Times of Michael K is a slim volume, just 184 pages, but I would argue that it is a masterful work that captures the struggling inherent in our human nature. I would recommend this book.

Have you read Nobel-prizing winning author J.M. Coetzee? Which novel do you recommend I read next?

Cross-posted here.

1 comment

Rose City Reader said...

You are more sympathetic than me -- both to Michael K and to Coetzee.

I didn't like this book. Near the end, Michael K, questions whether the moral of the story is that there is time for everything. But Michael K has nothing but time, yet he is incapable of doing anything. He can't cope with living in society; but he is incapable of surviving on his own in the wilderness.

Read literally, the book is horribly depressing, because Michael seems to be mentally ill or mentally deficient and no one can help him. Read symbolically, I just don’t get it. If Michael is supposed to represent some greater meaning, as the doctor/narrator suggests in the second part of the book, what is that meaning?




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