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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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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, 12 Dec 2000
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
By 
Garren Mulloy "garrenm3" (Japan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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 "Hamish" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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.

It is a poignant, painful and powerful book, that could only have been attempted - let alone delivered successfully - by a writer of authority, clarity and total control. But then those are the characteristics of J M Coetzee. He has given us a story about something vital out of the life of a man who is nothing.
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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
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation, 22 Jun 2008
By 
Coetzee's writing style is typically lean, uncovoluted, and simple. This particular story is not long. The tone is direct. Not many authors can write about simply living and life itself. What does it mean to be?
I admire everything Coetzee writes, and highly recommend this novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, 27 Jan 2014
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy winner of the Booker, 14 Aug 2012
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
'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 war. It follows the wanderings of the eponymous Michael, a poor and uneducated man with a harelip who works as a gardener in Cape Town. Michael attempts to accompany his sickening mother to her hazily-remembered birthplace in the country. Coetzee uses this ill-advised expedition to reflect on the human predicament of individuals who refuse to surrender to compulsion.

The novel's title immediately suggests Kafka, and there are also echoes of Beckett, but it has also been suggested that the book is a re-imagining of Kleist's 'Michael Kohlhaas'. It says a great deal that Coetzee's novel doesn't immediately founder under the weight of such comparisons. The book has been assimilated to the category of anti-apartheid protest novels, and of course it may be read as such; but it is in fact far more general and subtle in its examination of man's existential plight, his relationship to his fellow men and broader questions of freedom and dependence. In that sense, it is as resonant as any of the novels that have taken the Holocaust as emblematic of our contemporary condition.

I greatly enjoyed this book, which is in some ways a companion piece to its predecessor, 'Waiting For the Barbarians', a more abstract and literary treatment of similar themes also drawing on a predecessor text: in that case, Dino Buzzati's 'The Tartar Steppe'.

Coetzee is a major writer here. These were the books that established his reputation, and must have played a large part in his subsequent Nobel Prize award. Highly recommended to anybody interested in serious postwar fiction in English. For once, this a prize-winning book that earns its plaudits.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, 24 Jan 2008
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 felt I would like to have got some of Michal K's thinking about his own story, what he was feeling and what he was thinking.

While there certainly is the theme of how we think about other people's struggles and hardships from the outside, I would have felt more engaged with the character and the story if we had some more of victim's perspective. A few times, I felt I wanted him the character to open up and let the reader in.
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Life and Times of Michael K
Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee (Hardcover - 26 Sep 1983)
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