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Life and Times of Michael K Paperback – 6 Aug 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (6 Aug. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099268345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099268345
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,021,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting For the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Boyhood, Youth, Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. He was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Product Description

Review

"A strong and memorable novel" (Guardian)

"It strikes deep inside the heart...The story is clean, clear, straight, the work of a mature imagination at full power...here is a book that will be celebrated for a long time" (Mail on Sunday)

"This is a trule astonishing novel... I finished Life & Times of Michael K in a state of elation, for all the misery and suffering it contains. I cannot recommend it highly enough" (Evening Standard)

"Beautifully written in a strong, plain, unpretentious style...distinguished by grim humour and powerful understatement" (Sunday Express)

"The quality of Coetzee's writing lies in his inner vision: dark, passionately compassionate, concerned with the nature of man" (Financial Times) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE 2003 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
Michael K left me feeling on the one hand empty inside as though something had left me during the reading and on the other, elated. Wiser. On the surface it's a story of struggle but as you turn each page it slowly dawns that this struggle will never end. It's relentless. The forces against Michael K, a gardner, are too great and too many. In the end he takes his own route through an extrordianry maze of difficulties the best way he knows how until he is left at the end with everything intact, as though he never made the first step of this journey. We are left wondering, who is Michael K? We never discover what Michael K has to say or how he really feels, we must accept that we only know him by the hardships he encounters. The Life and Times of Michael K tells us more about ourselves than it does the characters in the book and this is the real essence of Coetzee's writing. Michael K will stay with me forever, a ghostly book that still haunts the mind.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Garren Mulloy on 11 Dec. 2004
Format: Paperback
This novel begins in a rather humdrum manner of everyday life in hardship. The hardship increases with the complexity of life, and it is the developing confusion of choices and the emerging landscape of morality that intensifies the hardship as much as the harsh physical and political environments.
The hardship can seem oppressive to the reader, particularly if you expect some of the more rounded colourings of Alan Paton or Doris Lessing's African works, but perseverance is more than worthwhile. The book can be divided into two main sections, each viewing the world from a distinct perspective: one black, one white. Neither is at ease, nor optimistic, yet, despite the air of oppressive hardship and misery, the ending is something quite unexpected, refreshing, and enlivening. It is too simple to refer to it as optimism or hope, simply a reversion to a simple universal truth.
This novel is both a classic of South Africa, and a classic novel of universal appeal. Despite its slimness it is one of the most moving works I have ever read, and perhaps particularly rare for being able to deal with the subject of a black man in apartheid South Africa without ever being a manifesto or sermon. It is simply a eulogy of humanity.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 May 2000
Format: Paperback
It has been a while that I have read anything as brave, honest and utterly compelling. Coetzee's insight into the struggle of life is quite humbling. Here the character wishes nothing more in life than to exist as a simple man living from the fruits of his labour. To enjoy life immersed in a simplicity which you or I can only read about. Through man's ignorance he is never granted this liberty.
I would recommend it a thousand times over - an unforgettable masterpiece for those who understand personal struggle. As I read the final words I dived straight back to the beginning.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Harrison on 3 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
In a society in which a whole group of its citizens is accorded no value, what happens when one of them values himself even less? The answer: he becomes like a double negative; and double negatives become positives. 'The obscurist of the obscure,' as Coetzee puts it,'so obscure as to be a prodigy.'

Coetzee writes with an economy and simple elegance which can be misleading. His prose can seem so plain there is a danger one thinks the story is plain too. In fact he draws with the economy of line of a great artist - and through it, like great artists, he achieves great beauty.

Michael K is a man for whom no one has ever much cared, and who consequently cares nothing for himself. He stumbles through civil war torn South Africa and is kicked about like a stone; not a rough, awkward protesting stone, but like a smooth stone, 'like a pebble that having lain around quietly minding its own business since the dawn of time, is now suddenly picked up and tossed randomly from hand to hand.' And is indestructible.

This is a short book that should be read at a run, not picked up and put down. The narrative may seem meandering. Those who encounter K are so perplexed by him they barely bother with him; and he is never bothered by them. The stone is merely kicked about. The point, for some time, seems obscure.

But then the stone that is K lands in the possession of someone different: of someone good. And now, for the first time, K becomes a disturbance; he creates anxiety, he upsets the status quo. And the moral of the tale reveals itself: sometimes, amidst the banality of institutionalised evil, it requires the extraordinary to make good people see the truth - even if, in this case, what is extraordinary is K's extreme ordinariness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Calypso on 21 April 2012
Format: Paperback
Based against the backdrop of the final days of apartheid in South Africa and martial law, this is the story of Michael K. We are told of Michael K's facial deformity, his difficult childhood left by his mother in an institution, his work as a gardener, and his subsequent care for his mother when she becomes ill. Faced with the loss of work and home, Michael takes his mother on a journey back to her childhood home. A journey his mother doesn't complete and which leads Michael into the bleakest of existences as he seeks isolation and freedom whilst the outside world seeks to restrain and define him.

The merciless deprivation and perennial hunger are relentless. In some ways Michael K epitomises the Janis Joplin quote `freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose'. Michael's refusal to be bound by others is inspirational and frustrating in equal measure. The characterisation almost gives him a religious overtone in the simplicity and innocence of his desires. However, it is also possible to see Michael as a metaphor for the decay of South Africa, as it rots from within so Michael slowly starves. To stretch the metaphor to the limit his persistence in wishing to plant and nurture pumpkin seeds suggests the latent potential for growth and renewal.

This is an extraordinary book. The multi-layered themes, the astonishing sense of bleakness created by the sparse and simple narrative, and the enigmatic character of Michael K, make this a superb work, well worthy of the accolades it has received.
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