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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michael K will stay with me forever, a ghostly book
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...
Published on 12 Dec 2000

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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 his Mother, to his experience of her death to his personal struggle with his own life - most of which is a fight for survival. There is no doubting Coetzee's lucid writing but at times I just...
Published on 24 Jan 2008 by Alex Ireland


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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 19 Oct 1999
By A Customer
I love this book and it's one of my favourite ever. It's beautifully written and portrays the harsh realities of South Africa wonderfully. Michael K is probably my favourite literary character.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life and Times of the mind of Coetzee, 31 Dec 2009
By 
Pankaj Saxena "...the typist of Gwalior" (Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Life and Times of Michael K (Paperback)
`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.

The protagonist Michael is a simpleton to the point of being mentally challenged, having been institutionalized in childhood. The apartheid war is going on all around him, but his is a life completely calm, until his mother falls ill. He then embarks on a journey to her birthplace. This becomes his quest, his purpose. On the way his mother dies but he continues the journey. At last he reaches the supposed birthplace of his mother and stays in the wilderness there, trying to live off the land. He is drawn into the war a few times but he refuses to participate in it and again and again returns to try living a simple life. At last he returns to the city, with the same sense of confusion and disorientation of war.

The protagonist Michael is a non-conformist, who is unwilling to join the war between the civilization and the barbarians, on either side.

Coetzee treats Michael K differently than his previous heroes. He is neither a brutalized caricature of a racist-colonialist like the hero of Dusklands, nor is he the romantic hero of `Waiting for the Barbarians' who, in a Quixotic act, turns against his own civilization, completely taking the side of the black Africans.

Coetzee is maturing in this novel. Unlike his unequivocal leftist sympathies of previous works, in this novel he just theoretically sympathizes with the barbarians. In practice he prefers living off the land, unconcerned with any side of war and favoring a Romantic return to the nature.

This is a disturbing novel. Ten pages into it and you feel dejected, confused and overcome by a sad lethargy.

In varying degrees, this is true of every work of Coetzee. Every page of his reflects the confusion arising from the African history. The delicate intellect of Coetzee looks with confusion at the innate violence of South Africa, the hopelessness of a nation made of irreconcilable halves and irresolvable issues, a nation clubbed together by historical accidents of its racist-colonialist past. The only emotions it can evoke are of horror, dismay fear and pity. But at the end every feeling mutates into a melancholic confusion. This is Coetzee's reaction to the African tragedy. And this is the hero's reaction too. Michael K is Coetzee, minus his intellect.

Michael also reflects the political orientation of Coetzee:

"Politically, the raznochinets can go either way. But during his student years he, this person, this subject, my subject, steers clear of the right. As a child in Worcester he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right, enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime. In fact, even before Worcester he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child. So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without being part of the left. Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language - by all political language, in fact."[1]

Exactly! Skimming along the fringes of left but not completely owning it.

The novel asserts that a `simple' man like Michael does not take any side. The only wish he has is to live a `simple' life with Nature. But the reader suspects that the simplicity of Michael is not that simple at all. He muses whether it is an indifference forced upon a simple personality by a superior intellect, an intellect committed to a certain point of view, certain ideology.

A simple man would not have remained indifferent to such a human tragedy. He would have reacted with anger, pity, sorrow or dejection.

Such a vision as that of Michael can only be that of a white male of South Africa who is fiercely committed to the race, which is not his own and in consequence rejected by both of them. Only he can be so detached, so unable to take sides.

Any less delicate personality than Coetzee may have reacted otherwise. Such a literary genius as his deserved to be born in the pre-Victorian or Victorian England, patronized by the court or nobles. But unfortunately for him and fortunately for us he was born in a deeply disturbed time and a deeply disturbed place. All of his works stacked one upon other tell us this story, the story of a delicate literary genius trying to comprehend and prevent all the misery but at last unable to do so. The fact that Coetzee finally migrated to Australia shows that it came to a breaking point finally where he could no longer watch it.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and sparse but good writing, 29 Jun 2009
This review is from: Life and Times of Michael K (Paperback)
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. The writing is good and sparse but the story is bleak and I kept wondering when things were going to really get going, but they never did. We follow the disfigured and desperately poor Michael on his depressingly drab journey through life, but not a great deal actually happens, other than that he survives against all the odds, which I suppose is the point. It is set in the South Africa of apartheid at a time of civil strife, but we are never told whether the characters are black or white. Presumably this is deliberate: we should know that Michael and other repressed people are black and the oppressors must be white.

It is written in the third-person until the second part when it changes to a first-person account by a doctor, after which it switches back again. Slightly confusing. I'm afraid this doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, but it is worth reading for the sharply realistic style of writing if you can you take the unrelenting bleakness and don't need happy endings.
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9 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sad life, sad times, 23 Feb 2004
By A Customer
Whilst appreciating the depth of the character that Coetzee had created in Michael K, I was still very dissapointed by the story. It was my first Coetzee novel and I'm not sure I will be trying another. The book was very frustrating, as from the synopsis I had gleaned the idea that K was to become successful as a planter of things, a grower of life and a generally amazing person despite his many hardships. Whereas nothing could be further from the truth. He lived a sad, some would say tragic life, achieving, nothing (not even scattering his mother's ashes in the correct place)He spent most of the story raking around in the dust, starving himself for no apparant reason and ended, well I wont give that one away. Lets just say, it took me a day to read, not because I couldn't put it down, but because it was short, with little substance, and I couldn't wait to get on to my next read, sorry, perhaps less was expected of Booker winners in 1983!
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but I preferred Disgrace, 5 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This is a very well-written book with an interesting story and a unique and memorable literary character in Michael K. It is a moving story but in my opinion it was very depressing and, although relatively short, lacked an element of suspense that would have kept the story from dragging. I found the idea of a fictional civil war to be unnecessary to the story, and the book did nothing for me in terms of race relations or South African culture. I much preferred Disgrace, which was superb.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreary and depressing, 22 Feb 2011
This review is from: Life and Times of Michael K (Paperback)
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 dismal.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, 17 Nov 2010
By 
This review is from: Life and Times of Michael K (Paperback)
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 that his acclaim is justified.

However, like another reviewer commented, I felt myself to waver in interest for this book and at times put it down for weeks at a time. It's not that it wasn't interesting, it was just very sparse at times without enough momentum to keep me going with it. 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy is similar to this book and I would recommend it if you like K. I will definitely be trying other Coetzee's - I saw the movie Disgrace, which was excellent.
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The hype of this novel outweighs the quality of the story, 6 Nov 2003
By 
Although it is easy to appreciate the skill Coetzee has in creating such a character as Michael K who is an unknowingly almost tragic figure, and his abitlity to instill pathos and sympathy in the reader, this novel does not do it for me. I find Michael K very frustraring. He has several opportunities to improve his quality of life but simply walks away from theses chances he is given, by the few kind people willing to want to understand him before they judge them. He throws their kindness back in their faces and seems to be more drawn towards the people that abuse his naivety.
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Life and Times of Michael K
Life and Times of Michael K by J M Coetzee (Paperback - 2 Sep 2004)
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