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January 28, 2015

Book Review – Life and times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

If I were to cut, he thought, holding his wrists out, looking at his wrists, the blood would no longer gush from me but seep, and after a little while of seeping dry and heal. I am becoming smaller and harder and drier every day.

Michael K, a municipal gardener born with a hare lip and slow of mind, lives in a future South Africa in the atrophy of civil war. His mother, Anna K, is in failing health and longs to see the farm of her childhood again. K decides to cross the hundreds of kilometres to get her there. Facing bureaucratic procedure after bureaucratic indifference, they travel by wheelbarrow-cum-rickshaw. Anna K dies early into the journey, leaving K with an uncertain future, searching for solitude and a garden.
The language is restrained, precisely clear, but by no means plain. Coetzee conjures unsettling images that culminate in rich metaphors through this reserved prose. His ability to combine these striking climaxes while retaining unadorned, nuanced language (as in the passage above) is reason enough to read the book.  But the unambitious K provides an even greater one. He is not the daft, unimaginative dullard the world believes him to be, with the solace of his silence leaving his mad world (and us) devastated and baffled in his wake.


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