Publisher: Secker & Warburg
About: South African gardener finds his own way
Style: 1st person
Where: South Africa
In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his ailing 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. This life-affirming novel illuminates the human experience: the need for an interior, spiritual life;
for meaningful connections to the world in which we live; and for purity of vision.
I have escaped the camps; perhaps, if I lie low, I will escape the charity too.
The mistake I made, he thought, going back in time, was not to have had plenty of seeds, a different packet of seeds for each pocket…. Then my mistake was to plant all my seeds together in one
patch. I should have planted them one at a time spread out over miles of veld in patches of soil no larger than my hand, and drawn a map and kept it with me at all times so that every night I could
make a tour of the sites to water them.
And so J.M. Coetzee has written a marvelous work that leaves nothing unsaid—and could not be better said—about what human beings do to fellow human beings in South Africa; but he does not
recognize what the victims, seeing themselves as victims no longer, have done, are doing, and believe they must do for themselves. Does this prevent his from being a great novel? My instinct is to
say a vehement “No.”
The New York Review of Books, Nadine Gordimer, 2nd February 1984 - for full review click here
Not so good:
"If Life & Times of Michael K has a flaw, it is in the last-minute imposition of an interior choral interpretation. In the final quarter we are removed, temporarily, from the plain
seeing of Michael K to the self-indulgent diary of the prison doctor who struggles with the entanglements of an increasingly abusive regime. But the doctor's commentary is superfluous; he thickens
the clear tongue of the novel by naming its "message" and thumping out ironies." -
Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review
About the author
J M Coetzee was born in South Africa in 1940. His novels include Waiting for the Barbarians (awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1980) and The Master of Petersburg (awarded the Irish
Times International Fiction Prize in 1995). In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. J M Coetzee lives in Australia.