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Life and Times of Michael K [Paperback]

J M Coetzee
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
Price: 5.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

2 Sep 2004
In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his mother back to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in an anarchic world of brutal roving armies. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity. Life and Times of Michael K goes to the centre of human experience - the need for an interior, spiritual life, for some connections to the world in which we live, and for purity of vision.

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Life and Times of Michael K + Waiting For The Barbarians + Disgrace
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (2 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009947915X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099479154
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,129 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


"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 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)

Book Description


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Tragedy With Penetrating Light 11 Dec 2004
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable masterpiece. 30 May 2000
By A Customer
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something brilliant from nothing 3 Jan 2008
By M. Harrison TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing. 11 July 2007
I can't think of any other author who can write with the economy of Coetzee. With practically no imagery, he manages to convey a sense of emotion and place which is overwhelming. There's something alien about Michael K and the way he refuses all help and seems resigned to the collapse of his life. I think this book is a more subtle but much more powerful allegory of Africa than "Disgrace"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, Haunting and Bleak 21 April 2012
By Calypso
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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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 5 months ago by Te
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy winner of the Booker
'Life and Times of Michael K' was the first of Coetzee's two Booker-winning novels. Published in 1983, it is set in a temporally unspecific South Africa that is sliding into civil... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Paul Bowes
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreary and depressing
If you liked Cormac McCarthy's The Road then you'll like this one. If not, don't bother. The main character is totally unconvincing, poorly described, the plot is dreary and... Read more
Published on 22 Feb 2011 by Paul Mack
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
This is a very well written and insightful book that gives the reader plenty to think about. It was my first foray into the highly venerated Coetzee and I can see from this book... Read more
Published on 17 Nov 2010 by aus_books
3.0 out of 5 stars Life and Times of the mind of Coetzee
`Life and Times of Michael K' is Coetzee vintage. One of the few books marking the milestones in the author's career... and I am not talking in terms of awards. Read more
Published on 31 Dec 2009 by Pankaj Saxena
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and sparse but good writing
I was disappointed by this book because it was the first book I'd read by the author and I was aware that it had been much praised. Read more
Published on 29 Jun 2009 by Phil O'Sofa
5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation
Coetzee's writing style is typically lean, uncovoluted, and simple. This particular story is not long. The tone is direct. Read more
Published on 22 Jun 2008 by Aesop
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad
I felt myself wavering through this book, sometimes I was fully engaged sometimes I wasn't. The story is essentially a narative of the central character Michael K, from living with... Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by Alex Ireland
2.0 out of 5 stars Sad life, sad times
Whilst appreciating the depth of the character that Coetzee had created in Michael K, I was still very dissapointed by the story. Read more
Published on 23 Feb 2004
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