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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid five stars
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",...
Published on June 25 2006 by C.W.

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3.0 out of 5 stars deep messages in a clouded story
Life and Times of Michael K. is a short, yet epic saga of a simple-minded individual who finds peace and a separate reality during a fictitious war in apartheid-era South Africa. Michael K. envelopes himself into his own personal cocoon whilst traversing the South African landscape, shielding himself from generally unpleasent individuals and activities.
While this...
Published on July 4 2000 by lazza


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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. (White Horse) - See all my reviews
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
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. Another contrast is expressed through K's desire to grow food, and his unconscionably skeletal frame. His physical form is the one area of K that is capable of reflecting the loss of 'self' he carries, while simultaneously seeking the sustenance that might see him endure long enough to find it.
Despite the evident references to an Apartheid South Africa, and indeed, this was the context for Coetzee while he wrote the 1983 Booker Prize winner, this transcendental story is truly about finding a sense of unity within ourselves. It is about the solidarity our humanity affords us, and the achingly unavoidable frailty so inadmissible by most, and yet welcomed by Michael K, often required to reach it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Complex, Gripping, Excellent, Aug. 27 2002
By 
Hilde Bygdevoll (Stavanger, Norway) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
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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3.0 out of 5 stars deep messages in a clouded story, July 4 2000
By 
lazza (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) - See all my reviews
Life and Times of Michael K. is a short, yet epic saga of a simple-minded individual who finds peace and a separate reality during a fictitious war in apartheid-era South Africa. Michael K. envelopes himself into his own personal cocoon whilst traversing the South African landscape, shielding himself from generally unpleasent individuals and activities.
While this story is superficially very promising, digging deeper I really found details lacking (especially reasons for Michael's behaviour). For example, the whole premise of this civil war is glossed over in just a word or two. I wonder if Coetzee really needed to bring in this war element at all to bring out his real messages (..on humanity and inner strength).
However one cannot help feel but moved by poor Michael's travails. It's a somewhat depressing feeling rather than inspirational, but Coetzee does get his views across one way or another.
I found Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians to be a much better read. It focuses much more sharply on the human/psychological elements; it just works much better than Life and Times of Michael K.
After all this, I must admit that I am not too familiar with apartheid or South Africa (its people, geography). I think South Africans will get a much better appreciation for this novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars this, our land., April 7 2000
Having heard the name, "J.M. Coetzee," dropped at a Cambridge dog-park, a fine place to listen for an elusive literary reference or amusing, critical waltz, I sought after this author, "the nape of good hope," as he was praisingly referred to by a man with all the poor nature of his notoriously ill-intentioned mix-of-poodle. Smiles of pure generosity; few understood his meaning at the time. Well, turns out, there was little hope allowed for in the persistently unsentimental treatment of both character and action in "Life and Times...," but much, however, contained in the sight and stylistic mastery of its author, Coetzee. One hears Coetzee accused of a kind of provinciality; I do not know -- but, I certainly think: dear god, not here. An author so able to give a simple, though elegant, philosophical meaning to the life and bad circumstance of such an assumedly vulgar typicality as Michael K is due a massive hats-off. In the absence of humor or ironic caricature is the stark progression of a gardener through territory made infertile for it. This telling is a third-person, as they say, omniscient account; but nonetheless we are most often peering about through the dull eyes of Michael, though not from his unfathoming conscience, at catastrophe. The view is as oppressive as the worst hour on the Warner Brothers Network though in its sureness-fired. Instead of commercially absurd, it is cruelly convincing in its work-a-day insufferability. Hats-off to its author; although I wonder who in this day will labor such a stolid voice as his. Nevermind it, good art here, Coetzee is champion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An uplifting tale of spiritual courage, Aug. 29 1999
By A Customer
Michael K is by most people's reckoning a subnormally endowed specimen of a human being - physically and mentally handicapped, he appears to be no more than one of life's cruel failures. It is only his indomitable spirit and courage which has helped him endure constant hardship and ultimately transcend human suffering brought upon by South Africa's apartheid regime. At one level, the story seems to be about the victory of spiritual and morale courage over man's cruelty. Just as Michael's natural otherworldliness served as a protective cloak against life's slings and arrows, Coetzee seems to be telling us to take heart and emulate Michael - if such a sorry human specimen can prevail against all odds, so can we. At another level, the story seems to me to be about the independence or autonomy of the human spirit from the realities of social and political life. Through the eyes of soldiers and other conscious members of society, we see a crumbling social order and chaos everywhere. Everything touched by them is, as it were, defiled and rendered foul. Only in Michael's makebelieve world does he still find his private space and food still fit for human consumption. Coetzee's slim novel makes for compelling reading. His message is simple but powerful and uplifting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The skeletal remains of the black man, Oct. 28 1999
By A Customer
In Coetzee's novel, Michael K. is the embodiment of apartheid aggression and brutality heaped on the black man. Powerful writing manifests itself in Coetzee's minds-eye of time and place. At the end of the story when Michael K. wanders the beach barely clothed and dying from starvation it showed that the apartheid era left nothing more and nothing less than the skeletal remains of the black man. As a side note to this, since at the time of this writing Coetzee had just received the Booker prize for DISGRACE; it makes me wonder if any of the journalist questioners read any of his other books. He was asked why DISGRACE is so dark. Darkness is at the heart of his writing as in Michael K. or Dostoevsky's descent into madness or an elderly white woman's suffering from cancer whose friendship with a black man ends with her suicide assisted death.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Desertion, Sept. 30 2002
By 
Thomas M. Seay (Palo Alto, California USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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!
-Thomas
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5.0 out of 5 stars An unblinking look at war, June 26 2000
By 
coolio (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
A stunning novel but not for the faint of heart. Here are all the horrors of war, but presented on a microcosmic scale that doesn't allow the reader to substitute ultimately cold statistics (x million dead, for example) for the true havoc wreaked on an individual-by-individual basis. Statistics go down easier, and are easier to ignore; in contrast, the trajectory of the protagonist's life here is so heartbreaking as to be beyond sadness -- it changes the way you think about things. War is everywhere in this novel, yet nowhere; we encounter few soldiers and no battles, but the South Africa described here is ravaged seemingly beyond repair. It is nearly impossible to do justice to the merit and value of this book, and to Coetzee's razor-sharp focus; he says more in this short novel than lesser writers could with an ocean of words.
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Life and Times of Michael K
Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee (Paperback - March 28 1985)
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