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Life and Times of Michael K [Paperback]

J.M. Coetzee
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Aug. 11 1998 --  
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The Life and Times of Michael K The Life and Times of Michael K 4.1 out of 5 stars (29)
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Book Description

Aug. 11 1998
In South Africa, whose civil administration is colapsing 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. J.M. Coetzee has produced a masterpiece which has the astonishing power to make the wilderness boom.

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"An outstanding achievment." --Nadine Gordimer"A major work of crystalline intensity." --Los Angeles Times"So purifying to the senses that one comes away feeling that one's eye has been sharpened, one's hearing vivified." --The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

J.M. Coetzee’s work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, The Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Youth, and Disgrace which won the Booker Prize, making him the first author to have won it twice.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid five stars June 25 2006
By C.W.
Format:Paperback
LIFE AND TIMES reminded me in many ways of two other books I've recently come across: Hosseni's KITE RUNNER and another book called THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD, both of which are great and riveting. But this neat little book about a slow-witted man in civil-war torn South Africa will really make you think. Michael K is part Huck Finn, part Rodya from "Crime and Punishment", part Gollum, and part Robinson Crusoe (and possibly, Josepf K from Kafka's "The Trial"). He takes on a characteristic of each of those characters during his adventure to get his mother back to the land of her youth. He has an uncomfortable relationship with food, and his struggle to feed himself is very odd indeed. After reading this book, I felt that I should build a cabin for myself far away from everyone else and create my own environment.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The delicate nature of being human April 4 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In a world flooded by turmoil and bereft of innocence, Michael K, simple, skeletal gardener and loyal son, stands alone. In the midst of war in South Africa, K withdraws himself from life, as we know it, and regresses, devolves, in order to survive his true bereavement; the loss of opportunity to tend the gardens of the city. This may appear callous at first, considering the event of his mother's death early in the story, and perhaps oversimplified, but K is 'simple', after all.
The backdrop of war is a clever one. War relies heavily on definition, on who we are and which side we are on, with the hope of those in power that a conclusion to this issue will indicate what is to be 'done' with us. It is an assumption the other characters in the story have, their seeming ability to define or classify K variously as homeless, as a walking representation of death, or as a saviour, that builds the concept of his character for the reader. He fits all, and simultaneously none, of these personas. K is resistant to any entirely accurate definition, as everyone in existence is, and it is refreshing, in a world so obsessed with naming and classifying, to be reminded of this.
There is a poignant contrast between K's worldview and his occupation. He is very much involved with the 'smaller picture', primarily focussed on what he is able to do 'right now', looking to his own immediate experiences as a guide. Even his name, 'K', is a reduction to the barest of necessities. But gardening, for which he expresses his only great desire, is innately long-term, requiring the ability to predict and counter outcomes and problems, respectively. This polarity demonstrates, with precision, two spheres of human existence, the instinctual and the rational.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Complex, Gripping, Excellent Aug. 27 2002
Format:Paperback
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!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Simpleton. Dec 13 2000
Format:Paperback
Michael K is a very thin, weak-looking man who is a gardner. As the book opens, he is trying to find a way to get his ill mother to Prince Albert where she was born. They make it halfway there when she unexpectedly passes away in a local hospital. Overwhelmed with grief and no longer in possession of any motivation whatsoever, K roams around aimlessly and becomes something of a homeless man. The story is a bit slow until he gets to Prince Albert. Here he begins a lifestyle of survival and escape, which he repeats numerous times throughout his life, and the reader begins to understand K more as a person. He is a man who is so thin he is often described as a skeleton. Even more importantly, he is mentally asleep. He does not desire human contact, food to eat, or work to occupy his body or mind. He is, strangely, not even interested in being nursed back to health at his lowest moment. "All these years, and still I carry the look of an orphan. Everywhere I go, there are people waiting to exercise their forms of charity on me" K says. And, unlike any other man, he resists this charity and escapes to his own company and the company of his gardens for "I am a gardener...I was mute and stupid in the beginning, I will be mute and stupid in the end. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being simple." Let the book speak for itself. It is a fascinating piece well worth anyone's time.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
Written at a time that Apartheid was still very strong, Coetzee came up with a philosophical account of life in that environment, which in this case is a surreal post-civil war... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Te
3.0 out of 5 stars Life and Times of Michael K
From the begining this novel lacked any unpredictability. The main character of the story Michael is definitely a man of reslience but I had a hard time being convinced of this.
Published 22 months ago by Greygoose
3.0 out of 5 stars review
Coetzee is razor-concise as ever, and elegantly combines many ideas into one person. I got a lot from the book's observations of a man in natural seclusion, growing into a purely... Read more
Published on Sept. 14 2003 by A. Patteson
5.0 out of 5 stars Spare, clear as a diamond and a reminder we have choices
Each sentence uttered by Michael K, the anti-hero of this book, is the voice of sanity, understanding, compassion and truth in a book full of voices of hate and confusion. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2003 by "jenniferbraun"
5.0 out of 5 stars Desertion
Like a character from Kafka, we never learn Michael K's last name. However, unlike Kafka's characters he chooses a different response to the oppresive society in which he finds... Read more
Published on Sept. 30 2002 by Thomas M. Seay
5.0 out of 5 stars Existence in 150 pages.
This book is perhaps the easier to read of Coetzee's but it is nonetheless not easy. This book captures so much of what it is to exist. Read more
Published on July 19 2002 by Joseph L. Soler II
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Afternoon's Read
Read this the day after I read "Disgrace." Compelling, beautifully written, and the only book I've ever read to top "Angela's Ashes" in poverty and... Read more
Published on June 28 2002 by KaylingR
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful
This book is only about 180 pages long, so you'd imagine I'd have no trouble finishing it. Unfortunately, no. Read more
Published on May 1 2002 by G M
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
I read Coetzee's "Disgrace" before I read this and I was instantly hooked on to his style of compassionate and insightful writing. Read more
Published on March 28 2002 by Aanand
5.0 out of 5 stars Let-it-be . Heartbreaking
As most of the reviews focused on the spiritual v.s. physical (And I deeply agreed with that), I still found this book quite heartbreaking. This was a Let-it-be life story. Read more
Published on Dec 8 2001 by Sen Peng Eu
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