Sunday, March 9, 2008

Life and Times of Michael K

Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee was originally published in 1983 and is 184 pages long. The Life and Times of Michael K won the 1984 Booker. I would characterize Michael K as novel about freedom. However, it does not depict an exhilarating fight for freedom, but rather how the surrounding civil war effects the actions of a man who has no understanding of his life and times. Michael K is a simple man who would have lived a contented life in a kinder society but was not given that opportunity. This is a relentlessly sad novel written in spare, unadorned language. There are not any long, descriptive passages. It's as if Coetzee wanted to limit and simplify our understanding of Michael's surroundings in order to help us better understand Michael K, who is one of the powerless people caught up in the surrounding strife. Rating: 4 (but I reserve the right to change my mind)

Synopsis from the publisher (The Viking Press) at Amazon:

In South Africa, whose civil administration is collapsing under the pressure of years of civil strife, an obscure young gardener named Michael K decides to take his mother on a long march away from the guns towards a new life in the abandoned countryside. Everywhere he goes however, the war follows him. Tracked down and locked up as a collaborator with the rural guerrillas, he embarks on a fast that angers, baffles, and finally awes his captors. The story of Michael K is the story of a man caught up in a war beyond his understanding, but determined to live his life, however minimally, on his own terms. J.M. Coetzee has produced a masterpiece which has the astonishing power to make the wilderness boom.


"But he did not shirk any aspect of what he saw as his duty. The problem that had exercised him years ago... namely why he had been brought into the world, had received its answer: he had been brought into the world to look after his mother." pg. 7

"Lying in her bed in her airless room through the winter afternoons with rain dripping from the steps outside, she dreamed of escaping from the careless violence, the packed buses, the food queues, arrogant shopkeepers, thieves and beggars, sirens in the night, the curfew, the cold and wet, and returning to a countryside where, if she was going to die, she would at least die under blue skies." pg. 8

"There was a cord of tenderness that stretched from him to the patch of earth beside that dam and must be cut. It seemed to him that one could cut a cord like that only so many times before it would not grow again." pg. 66

"No papers, no money; no family, no friends, no sense of who you are. The obscurest of the obscure, so obscure as to be a prodigy." pg. 142

"In fact his life was a mistake from the beginning to end. It's a cruel thing to say, but I will say it; he is someone who should never have been born into a world like this. It would have been better if his mother had quietly suffocated him when she saw what he was, and put him in the trash can." pg. 155

1 comment:

Georgia Takacs said...

I love this book. Really great little review! And some great quotes you selected... Thank you!