Travels in S. Africa with Michael K.

My travels have gotten a bit scrambled because of my audiobook side reads on my recent trip. Tonight I finished up my South Africa read, and I will be moving on to Hungary tomorrow. For my S. Africa read, I picked another 1001 Books selection–this one by J. M. Coetzee. I liked it in a quiet sort of way. It didn’t change my world, but I’m glad to have read it. I’ll post my review; the Goodreads summary is minimal, so I will skip that.

My review: Life and Times of Michael KLife and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael K. is a simple man with a harelip who works as a gardener in Cape Town at the time of a civil war in S. Africa. His elderly mother is ill and wants to return to the village where she grew up. When the pair cannot get travel permits, Michael loads his mother into a cart he has constructed from his bicycle and they set out to escape the city on foot. His mother dies en route, but Michael continues on. He lives simply, off what he can hunt or grow and develops a mindful attitude to the moments of each day. He is picked up and placed in work camps, and is at one point suspected of being in league with rebels hiding in the countryside. One section of the book shifts from Michael’s point of view to that of a medical officer who tries to understand who Michael is, and what makes him tick. In the end, Michael becomes a source of inspiration for him, making him yearn for a simple life of his own.

I liked following the world through Michael’s eyes. His simple approach to the world was oddly soothing. Race was mentioned exactly once in the book, when the medical officer is talking to a military officer and musing that he can’t even remember what they are fighting the war for, anyway. The answer, so minorities can have their rights. Otherwise race is entirely invisible in this book. Michael is described physically, but we never know the race of any of the characters.

About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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4 Responses to Travels in S. Africa with Michael K.

  1. Sue Drees says:

    Another nice review Beth. I haven’t yet read anything by Coetzee. Would this be a starting place?

  2. Arukiyomi says:

    I’d also agree with Beth that this is a good starting point for Coetzee… Disgrace is also good but, like most of his other books, has quite disturbing scenes in it.

    Anyway…. I came here to see if I could find an email address for you on your blog but I can’t seem to see one. Wondered if you’d be interested in a free iPhone 1001 Books App in return for a review on your blog, let me know and I can send you a coupon for iTunes. If you have an Android phone and you’d be interested in doing this when we release the Android version in a couple of months, let me know too.

    • Would love to try the Android app. I don’t have an iphone (if you have a spare, I won’t object to having one…). I’ll shoot you my email. I love the PC spreadsheet and use it almost daily, since I’m always reading or acquiring 1001 books!

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