Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

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Booker Prize-winning Life and Time of Michael K by Nobel-prizing winning J.M. Coetzee was a challenging but rewarding read for me.

In the midst of a futuristic South African civil war, Michael K lives to survive, and that is all. He has no wants and needs other than to be left alone. I spent the first portion of the book feeling sorry for Michael, who was born with a cleft lip and is alternately pitied and despised as he tries to find a bit of earth were he might live in peace. In the end, however, I found that facing the charity of the world was Michael’s greatest struggle of all, and I had succumbed to pitying him just as had those he met. Michael didn’t want to be different from anyone else.

Life and Times of Michael K was written in very straight-forward language that was both intriguing to read and challenging to embrace, leaving me with mixed feelings about this book. However, the writing perfectly matched the character of Michael K and properly told his story. Michael K’s story is the story of a human searching for himself and his purpose on the earth. Just as the language was both a challenge and a reprieve to read, the story of Michael’s life is both depressing and inspiring.

Life and Times of Michael K is a slim volume, just 184 pages, but I would argue that it is a masterful work that captures the struggling inherent in our human nature. I would recommend this book.

Have you read Nobel-prizing winning author J.M. Coetzee? Which novel do you recommend I read next?

Reviewed on June 24, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I am currently slogging my way through Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee. It is an interesting book (about half of each page is a non-fiction essay, the next quarter is a story from the old man who wrote the essay, from his point of view, the next quarter is the same story, but from a young woman’s point of view). Whew! Okay, so while interesting, I’m just not feeling compelled to finish. We’ll see. Your review actually made me want to pull through to the end.

  • @Jessica: Sounds like this author is always a hard read. I probably won’t pick that one up. Michael K was hard to pick up every time but like I said it seemed worthwhile to read and it was short so I pushed through to the end. I wonder if any of his are pleasant?

  • I read Foe, which is a deconstruction/post-modern re-telling of Robinson Crusoe. I read Robinson Crusoe first, and I think Foe is better that way because I think the jokes he makes about the book are better. It’s very complicated though, and I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as I did if I hadn’t been reading it for my senior seminar in English and gotten to talk about it in class each day. It’s not super long, and it’s not unpleasant, just complicated.

  • @Kim: I’m thinking this author might be one best read in a setting where others can weigh in on their thoughts and we can all learn together! Hard to read otherwise. I haven’t read Crusoe.

  • @Wendy:

    “Tough read, but worth it” is, I think, what Harold Bloom means when he says that reading is a “difficult pleasure”. Thanks for your reviews! I’ll check them out.

  • I’m not surprised at all to hear how good this one sounds. Coetzee is yet another author I think is going to become a favorite and one I return to often over the years.


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