J. M. Coetzee was awared the Booker Prize for this book back in 1983, so I had great expectations for this book. "Life & Times of Michael K" did not disappoint me, and I think it is highly deserving of the Booker prize.
The story is set in South Africa, in the midst of poverty, Apartheid, and Civil war. We enter the story when Michael K is 30 years old, and working as a gardener. Michael K was born with a harelip, which has never been fixed. His mother, Anna K, works as a maid for the Buhrmann family. As the civil war erupts the family Anna was working for flees out of town. While continuing to watch out for the apartment and the belongings to her employer, Anna falls ill. She has only one wish that K takes her back to Prince Albert where she was born.
On their way there (fleeing in the night, K pushing his mother in wheelbarrow) a day or two in to their journey, Anna is admitted to a hospital where she shortly after passes away. K is devastated with grief, and he looses all energy to continue. He finally makes it to Prince Albert, carrying his mothers ashes in a box. The war catches up with K, and he is taken to a camp where everyone is given food and shelter in return for their labour. K (or "Michaels" as one of the guards calls him) seeks no physical contacts with others, he feels no hunger and as a result, we see this mentally sleeping skeleton emerge.
K continues to flee from the camp where he is held. We follow his struggle to live his life the way he wants to, free and as one with nature.
The author introduces us to a topic that those of us who are not South Africans will probably never quite understand. Coetzee is a splendid writer, and his writing style is compelling, dark, but immensely beautiful.
A remarkable read reflecting on a man's inner strength. Highly recommended!