D. Pow's Reviews > Life and Times of Michael K

Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee
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Jul 29, 2010

it was amazing
Read in December, 2008

I have been thinking how much a good book is like an organic thing. When the proper level of alchemical transformation is reached between a skilled author at the top of his game and a reader with the proper level of receptivity and empathy then something new and wonderful is birthed. You are no longer dealing with some pulped paper glued together with some artful(or not) cover protecting its frail glyphs but you are in the presence of something larger, vaster and infinitely more sacred than just a `good yarn’ designed to kill some time. You actually are allowed to see the world through another pair of eyes, observe, act, fail to act, feel, watch an entire life spool out with Technicolor vividness, rest firmly embedded in another for the length of the journey that is the book. That is something rare and wonderful that isn’t often to be found, but I think it is close to the root of why certain readers trumpet certain authors and books with the fervor of one who has found The Grail or some other talisman of sacred import.

The Life and Times of Michael K is my most recent experience where I closed a book at its end and felt I had been exposed completely to a real, living soul; where I felt the alchemy of a life lived thorough another take place. The book is the journey of one frail, physically malformed and mentally challenged man through the horrors of South African during the apartheid era. Michael K.’s journey is one that begins in poverty and oppression, travels outwards into greater malignancies and terrors, and ends in a cruel stasis that might be synonymous with death. And yet…this book never once struck me as being, depressed, morbid or overly sad. Through the strength of the writing I was so utterly with Michael most of the time, I could not stand outside dispassionately and think about what a terrible lot in life he had. And while the arc of Michael’s journey is pitiful, one of mere subsistence for the greater part, there are also scenes of corresponding beauty that make you realize that even though Michael is a simpleton his connection to the land, to the earth, is something much more subtle and deep. Michael is a planter and a gardener and he finds what redemption he can from his hands delving into the red clay that is the body of South Africa and though he wouldn’t know how to express it, there is sense of completeness and soul-solace he achieves there, that makes his life seem not wholly pitiful.

By letting this half-starved , hair-lipped, street urchin be the recipient of these small instances of grace, Coetzee is really delivering a quite passé and subversive message: the most sordid lives might still seem to the ones experiencing them eminently worth living. And by letting Michael K. remain his plodding, dim and unaware self throughout this book, after numerous exposures to the brutal injustices of apartheid, war and exile, Coetzee has also delivered a stirring paean to the capacity of the individual, no matter how slight and flawed, to stand and prevail against anything.

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02/23 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Jessica one of my very favorites of his.


message 2: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Wel, this is a great great book and I would have never read him without you and your love of him.


message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Another one of my favorites from ya, Don. Thanks.


message 4: by Jessica (last edited Jul 07, 2009 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jessica Donald wrote: "Wel, this is a great great book and I would have never read him without you and your love of him. "

yeah, too bad my affair with him ended ;-(
but I'm still faithful
he has a new one coming out, Gottlieb alerted me to it, a follow-up to his memoirs, 'Boyhood,' [excellent:] and Youth [not nearly as good:]:
'Summertime'
Must get it.


message 5: by Michelle (last edited Jul 07, 2009 12:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle I'm happy you saved your review, Donald. It was an excellent one.


Richard Superb review, Donald. Heading to SA tomorrow with Achebe in my hand luggage. Having read your review, Michael K. (long unfinished; why evades me) will be his travelling companion.


message 7: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Cool Cool, Richard! Safe travellings...


Jason You could delete this (these!) and repost a thousand times, and every time I'd think: damn, smart stuff, I'm glad he gave me a reason to re-read...


message 9: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Thanks, Mike Reynolds. Your stuff rocks too.


message 10: by Alan (new)

Alan must catch up with this one. I've only read 'Disgrace' which was excellent.


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Yeah, but didn't you think the vacuous bletherings of the Wise Doctor in the last third just about capsized the power & beauty of the first part? Cause i sure did.


message 12: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Paul, it didn't effect me to that degree. I thought it was an odd stylistic choice, but it worked for me. i know you felt otherwise...


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