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Life and Times of Michael K

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  16,549 ratings  ·  1,038 reviews
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 interi ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 2nd 2004 by Vintage (first published 1983)
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Life and Times of Michael K completely lived up to what I expected from J.M. Coetzee, after having been overwhelmed by his Disgrace. It is much more than the slow thinking Michael K. It is about his inner strenght and his search for survival, in a world in which we are eminently alone. But it goes beyond even that, it is about the depths one can reach through the things we value, and their meanings when they are extensions of one’s true self.

If life is a journey,
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Gardeners of the soul
Shelves: read-in-2014, dost
Three allegoric movements compose this symphonic tale, whose inert melody is inwardly repeated in a concentric canon of voices where character, writer and reader create a fused metanarration alternating rhythms of disquiet, frigidity and discomfort.

It all starts with bafflement.
Michael K is an outsider with a harelip, a defective soul whom people take for an indolent moron, a wooden man thrown into the battlefield of life with a past as opaque as his present and as elusive as his future.
I read s
Ask me to pronounce verdict on a work of literature flaunting mere self-indulgent wordplay, revelling in its own brand of avant-gardism, which stops short of making a powerful statement on our troubled times, and my response to it is likely to be lukewarm.
Ask me to judge a book dissecting the greater human quandary with keen insight but in stilted prose, and my reaction will possibly be more or less the same.

But give me a story capable of dismantling all the divides of race, culture, political
Vit Babenco
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Is life a journey? And how to survive when the entire world seems to turn against you?
His first step was to hollow out the sides of the crevice till it was wider at the bottom than the top, and to flatten the gravel bed. The narrower end he blocked with a heap of stones. Then he laid the three fence posts across the crevice, and upon them the iron sheet, with slabs of stone to hold it down. He now had a cave or burrow five feet deep.

Even a tiny miserable ant needs home… To escape the storm one m
Steven Godin
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, south-africa
Like Disgrace and Waiting for the Barbarians, Life and Times of Michael K certainly left it's mark on me, and of the three, I'd say it was the most intriguing. However, overall, I still think the other two were the better novels, as its simple minded protagonist here felt more like a cloddish plot device than a real man. I really couldn't work him out. Just how much of a dullard was he?
Coetzee is persistently reminding the reader just how much of a borderline simpleton Michael K actually is, and
Glenn Sumi
During a civil war in South Africa, Michael K., a simple man born with a harelip, tries to get help for his sick mother; then, after she dies, he attempts to take her ashes to the farm where she grew up.

There’s something powerful yet elusive about this short novel by Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. As in his other Booker Prize-winning novel, Disgrace , this fictional world is simultaneously familiar and nightmarish.

The spirit of Franz Kafka hovers over the book: in the protagonist’s name (think
Jan 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
~ This review dedicated to 'Ya Boy.' I'ma sip this, you do the rest. ~

The Community of Misery

'Misery loves company.' I've always kind of really hated that expression because (rightly or not) I've usually deciphered the unsettling subtext whenever it's employed: i.e., that people -- experiencing misfortunes or enduring profound unhappiness -- prefer that others are likewise afflicted.

When I was younger, for instance, my father, a nouveau riche who absurdly prided himself on the mythologized 'p
Paul Bryant
Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: worldlit, bookers, novels

Uh oh. Last thing I want to do is fall out with my bookfacingoodreadinfingerlickin friends such as Donald and Jessica, both of whom think this is so good you have to invent a new word for it, good just isn't good enough, brilliant is almost an insult. So as you can tell, I didn't share those views. I was so gripped by this book, couldn't wait to get back and finish it today, and then i hit the Doctor's Tale (las
D. Pow
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
"War is the father of all and king of all. Some he shows as gods, others as men. Some he makes slaves and others, free."

But how does one differentiate between The Slave and The Free? Is that Man a slave, whose captivity by the victor frees him of his worldly expectations? Or should we call that Man, free who has no kin to bother about since they have all been enslaved in the war fire? Is it possible to live a life without succumbing to either side? Or is it inevitable to be one without being
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: booker, nobel
In a word: devastating.

This is Coetzee's signature novel and absolutely must be read. To say that I loved it feels like a highly inappropriate statement because even though I feel that way I can't love a book that devastated me as a reader and challenged my notions about reconciliation and redemption from injustices of the past on an individual as well as societal levels. Perhaps not many would see it that way but the novel is also a subtle statement on race relations in modern times and its pow
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
My all-time favorite Coetzee
There are protest novels that protrude a very clear message: an openly rejection of certain political systems, of injustice, discrimination or sheer terror. And then you have a book like this one: very clearly rooted in a moralising story (against apartheid), but at the same time having a much more subtle and much broader message, exhibiting nothing less than a reflection on human condition.

Coetzee does this through the main character, Michaël K, a "simple" coloured
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: novel readers, social workers, gardeners
Recommended to Jessica by: coterie of rabid coetzee maniacs who have infiltrated this site
Obviously there're a lot of people out there who write much better than I do, and in this way I feel writing's similar to distance running. I can run a passable marathon, though of course a lot of amateur runners out there run a much faster one. I'm impressed by people who run faster than I can, just as I am by those who write better than me. These people are humbling, but they're also inspiring: reading good writing or watching good running makes me want to write better and run faster. It's hea ...more
Life and Times of Michael K completely lives up to the hype and deserves every fucking award it has received. Both corporeally and allegorically it is as deep as they come; it isn’t just about the slow thinking Michael K. trying to survive; it is about inner strength, our perceptions of others, individuality in a world in which we are alone; it is about how we view meaning, and the depths one can reach through those meanings when they are extensions of one’s true self.

Coetzee amazed me....take a
God damn it, that was close!

I had high hopes about this novel but I finished it feeling slightly disappointed. Oh well, Coetzee couldn’t have guessed how different wars were going to be in the 21st century, could he? If only he could I’m sure he wouldn’t have included all the ‘preaching‘ which turned this from an amazing five star read to a strong four star one.

It’s been quite a few days since I finished this novel and the more I thought about it (at work, obviously, because that’s where I seem
Violet wells
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Both brilliant and flawed. The writing is fabulous. And it’s a tremendous achievement of imaginative prowess. The story is about Michael, a young black man who is born with a harelip and thus has difficulty speaking which he rarely does. He grows up in a home for handicapped children. He has no father and his mother is a servant in Cape Town. Michael works as a gardener. South Africa is in the grip of civil war. When his mother becomes ill she asks to be taken back to her childhood home, a remot ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to C. by: Most of goodreads
Shelves: 2009

The prose was detached and lifeless, as I have come to expect from Coetzee. Which leaves you cold and alone. In the rain, outside on the deserted street gazing at the lighted windows of the stalinesque apartment buildings across the road. And inside you there's this dull ache of hollowness that is where the prose would be if it was there. And because you are so empty there is a sort of lack that swells and swells until it fills you whole and spills over into your thoughts and your actions. A
Sep 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
For about two-thirds of this I couldn’t have been more fascinated. However, something really strange happens two-thirds of the way in that I found very disappointing. The story goes from omniscient narration, first person directed to straight first person narration. Now, this would have been bad enough if the new narrator had been the voice of the person out of whose eyes the rest of the book had been seen – but it was someone else entirely. I got the feeling that the main reason for this was th ...more
James Field
Sep 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
“This life affirming novel goes to the center 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.”

This life depressing novel goes to the center of human boredom-the need for a plot, for some reality to the world in which we live, and for putting the reader to sleep.
Jun 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh these powerful novels/novellas! My favorite, I think, must be Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" (& his "Brighton Rock" comes a shy second), but lately I've discovered that the much-revered South African titan of lit J. M. Coetzee has a similar (enviable) gift for packing a tremendous wallop in such a tiny package.

The writer has a confidence which is rivaled only by the avid devotion to his topic: mainly of the modern war, or, perhaps more aptly, the Holocaust in that bottom-most region in
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book was on its way to five stars until the monologue by the doctor caused my attention to waver. Coetzee sometimes falls into a moralizing monologue, as in Waiting for the Barbarians, that slows the pace of an otherwise galloping story, when he could have made his point better with action. Of course, the character of the doctor represents the white South African with a conscience who still fails to understand Michael, and I get that, but it was ten pages too much, in my opinion. I love
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
This book was very Kafkaesque. I do not say that lightly, since it tends to be a hackneyed short-form that passes for literary criticism by those who read The Metamorphosis in high school, and haven't touched Kafka since then. But this novel wasn't just Kafkaesque, it was so reminiscent and derivative (complete with heavy-handed and direct allusions to The Hunger Artist and The Castle), that at one point, I thought I might well have given up on it and just read ... Kafka.

But wait -- the best bi
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this bleak but also inspiring novel more than Disgrace. Michael born with a hare lip and institutionalized during his youth now works as a gardener and looks after his dying mother. South Africa is in a civil war in which society is breaking down. The hospital his mother was is basic and the room they stay in at the behest of his mothers employer’s not much better.

Michael loses his job as a gardener and focuses on looking after his dying mother. The description of her stay at the hosp
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, read-for-uni
“He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything, as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust”

I cannot say that I really understood this book. Or, to be more precise, its main character. Michael is overall a decent fellow and I felt for him but not with him, simply because I lacked understanding. All Michael wants is to exist and to be left alone completely.
Jun 14, 2018 marked it as unfinished
Shelves: booker-winners
I read the first 20 pages out of 187 and desultorily skimmed the rest. I should really know by now that this is just the sort of book I hate: a spare, almost dystopian allegory that’s not really rooted in time or place and whose characters are symbols you hardly care about. The Childhood of Jesus was similar, as was Jesse Ball’s Census. I didn’t make it through those either. This starts off as Michael K’s quest to get his ailing mother to Prince Albert, but that’s very soon derailed, and with it ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Life & Times of Michael K (1983)
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Read: 10/10/20
Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Teeming with praise from Booker to Nobel,
but actual story lacks liveliness.
Despite powerful / skilled writing,
sparsely told allegory
weighed down by politics
and lofty harangues.
Hard to connect
to this man
who shuns

#ReverseEtheree #ReviewPoem #BookerPrize #NobelLaureate #Africa #colonialism #cremains #epigraph #farmlife #gardening #hospital #loneliness #motherson #multiplepointsofview #poverty
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Is There Joy in Utter Destitution?

Musings on The Life and Times of Michael K.

When I was thirteen, we moved out to a smallholding on the outskirts of Johannesburg. We still refer to it as “The Farm”, but only about a third of the land was arable, the rest was slate, covered with a thin crust of dust and scrub. There was a borehole and an orchard, a vegetable patch, chickens, three horses, two donkeys, a cow, and two pigs. There was also a family of nine – Wilson and Rebecca M. and their seven chi
Aug 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Beautiful. Life and Times of Michael K is a ghostly escape book. A book that seems to exist in the spiritual space between Kafka and Buddha and perhaps even London (this book shares many prose poem similarities with 'Call of the Wild'). This is a book that can only have been crafted by Coetzee, but also seems like a story that predates Coetzee, language and time. ...more
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another one I'd need to read again to do justice to - very much a book of its time and place but a very moving one ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
The Goodreads description gives us the bare necessity of understanding what this short novel is about. When Michael K is born with a harelip and apparently somewhat simple he is sent to live in a government institution. When he is turned out into society he becomes a gardener. He becomes close to his mother at this time and when she asks to be returned to her home upcountry, he endeavors to help her. The country has become embroiled in a civil war. Michael K and his mother are not able to get th ...more
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Reading 1001: Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee 4 22 Jul 15, 2018 07:48AM  

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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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183 likes · 43 comments
“He thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything, as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust” 17 likes
“He even knew the reason why: because enough men had gone off to war saying the time for gardening was when the war was over; whereas there must be men to stay behind and keep gardening alive, or at least the idea of gardening; because once that cord was broken, the earth would grow hard and forget her children. That was why.” 16 likes
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