Book review: Life & times of Michael K

November 17, 2009

Title: Life & times of Michael K
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Pages: 250

Life & times of Michael K is the story of Michael K, a hare-lipped simpleton living in apartheid-era South Africa. Michael’s father is dead and his mother is a maid who despises her son and abandons him in an institution for many years.

Michael makes his living as a gardener for the city. When his mother falls sick she turns to her son for help. Michael accepts the burden of looking after her without complaint and even considers it his purpose in life.

His mother longs to move out of the city and to her birthplace, the rural town of Prince Albert. They try to travel by train but fail to obtain the necessary permits. Finally they decide to travel on foot. Michael builds a rickshaw to carry his mother and starts walking toward Prince Albert.

The first part of the book follows Michael’s journey through the war-torn country after the death of his mother. Michael lives as a vagabond but is frequently picked up by the police and other authorities. He spends time in camps but always manages to escape.

The second part of the book is narrated by a camp-doctor who takes an active interest in Michael because he refuses to eat food even though he does not want to die.

The third and final part of the book follows Michael after his escape from the camp.

Life & times of Michael K was an interesting and easy-to-read book. I would recommend  it because it is a Booker-winning work by a Nobel prize-winning author. Indeed, the prizes impress me more than the book did.


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