Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee (South Africa)

life and times Title: Life & Times of Michael K

Author: J. M. Coetzee

Original title: Life & Times of Michael K

Original language: English

Rating: 5 out of 5

“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”

When my mother was dying in hospital, he thought, when she knew her end was coming, it was not me she looked to but someone who stood behind me: her mother or the ghost of her mother. To me she was a woman but to herself she was still a child calling to her mother to hold her and help her. And her own mother, in the secret life we do not see, was a child too. I come from a line of children without end.

But most of all, as summer slanted to an end, he was learning to love idleness, idleness no longer as stretches of freedom reclaimed by stealth here and there from involuntary labour, surreptitious thefts to be enjoyed sitting on his heels before a flowerbed with the fork dangling from his fingers, but as a yielding up of himself to him, to a time flowing slowly like oil from horizon to horizon over the face of the world, washing over his body, circulating in his armpits and his groin, stirring his eyelids.

J.M. Coetzee is a South African novelist, critic and translator, noted for his novels about the effects of colonization. He won the Booker Prize twice (with Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace) and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

This book is about the slow thinking Michael K, a poor man with a harelip, who spent his childhood in institutions and works as a gardener. Michael’s mother becomes very sick and he decides to leave his job and carry his mother to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in a land torn by civil war. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity and freedom. I particularly liked Coetzee’s description of homelessness. For Michael K, homelessness is freedom.

I believe this book isn’t just the story of Michael who is trying to survive in a cruel world where he is alone, it is about our need for an interior, spiritual life, for some connections to the world in which we live, a sense of purpose.

I’m specially fond of this book and I believe it completely deserves every award it has received.

And if you’re thinking of reading Life and Times of Michael, make sure to read this amazing review: