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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Jan. 29 2014
By Te
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 South Africa with all the horrors that come with the aftermath of a civil war, especially an African civil war. However, Michael K. makes the effort to shield himself from the harshness of his environment by taking on a life of existential survival. In fact the lesson from this book applies to all environments or situations where society makes it difficult for a private person to live a personal life that is independent of the forces of the environment. Other recommended reads are Disciples of Fortune, Disgrace, The Usurper and Other Stories. I like books like this for the thought-provoking and insightful nature of the story.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Life and Times of Michael K Nov. 22 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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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.
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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3.0 out of 5 stars review Sept. 14 2003
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 spiritual being. The notion is Romantic, but, I feel, true. I recommend this book to people who find being alone and lost enriching. I do.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The delicate nature of being human April 5 2003
By A Customer
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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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. Of course it's Michael K who is alledged to be the idiot, the simpleton. He's the only one who has chosen to listen to the voice inside each of us that says, "This is poison, avoid it, this is paradise, experience it now and stay here". I was reminded life isn't so very confusing when it's pared down to simplicity. I don't ever want to be the person with a weapon in my hand telling someone I'm just following orders or I'm just doing my job. Thank you, Mr. Coetzee for writing books for us to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Desertion Sept. 30 2002
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 himself. He chooses desertion. Rather than take on the system, he flees it and tries to construct a life of dignity.
Unfortunately that choice brings him hunger and loneliness. We can liken the consequences of his choice to those made or imposed on people living outside of the suffocating world of corporations and money. They are treated with contempt and subsist on low income. The choice of living outside of the machine is not always a pleasant one. The hero does not live happily ever after but will always be forced to choose between a dignified life and one of comfort. If you think you can strike a "golden mean" between the two, wake up!
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