❰Ebook❯ ➩ Life & Times of Michael K. Author J.M. Coetzee – Saudionline.co.uk

Life & Times of Michael K. chapter 1 Life & Times of Michael K., meaning Life & Times of Michael K., genre Life & Times of Michael K., book cover Life & Times of Michael K., flies Life & Times of Michael K., Life & Times of Michael K. 38c908db49255 In A South Africa Torn By Civil War, Michael K Sets Out To Take His 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 Life And Times Of Michael K Goes To The Centre Of Human Experience The Need For An Interior, Spiritual Life, For Some Connections To The World In Which We Live, And For Purity Of Vision This Is A Truly Astonishing Novel I Finished Life Times Of Michael K In A State Of Elation, For All The Misery And Suffering It Contains I Cannot Recommend It Highly EnoughEvening Standard

10 thoughts on “Life & Times of Michael K.

  1. says:

    Just a few words, a first stepLife and Times of Michael K completely lived up to what I expected from J.M Coetzee, after having been overwhelmed by his Disgrace It is much than the slow thinking Michael K It is about his inner strenght and his search for survival, in a world in which we are eminently alone But it goes beyond even that, it is about the depths one can reach through the things we value, and their meanings when they are extensions of one s true self.If life is a journey, Life and Times of Michael K is a road trip of survival in a world enterily set against him His first step was to hollow out the sides of the crevice till it was wider at the bottom than the top, and to flatten the gravel bed The narrower end he blocked with a heap of stones Then he laid the three fence posts across the crevice, and upon them the iron sheet, with slabs of stone to hold it down He now had a cave or burrow five feet deep To escape the downpur the only choice it to vanish, get smaller and smaller 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 And, No papers, no money no family, no friends, no sense of who you are The obscurest of the obscure, so obscure as to be a prodigy What is there left, if he could just disappear would he become free of this terrible world An update, or a few stepsSo soon after revealing here my first impressions yesterday, after exchanging comments with my dear friends Seemita and Dolors, I feel compelled to add Yes, there s much How could I have covered it thoroughly with some rapid thoughts Indeed, Michael K, alone in a brutal world of roving armies and unable to bear confinement, escapes in search of salvation This is a life affirming road trip that reaches what is most worthy the need for an interior or spiritual life What can he do within his own limitations or constraints What can anyone reach for, when faced with a journey of suffering that will inevitably lead to an inconceivable nothingness Thus, Michael K finds his saving grace in T he truth, the truth about me I am gardener, he said again aloud. Ah, such purity I am than a earthworm, he thought Which is a kind of gardener Or a mole, also a gardener, that does not tell stories because it lives in silence How could Michael K not remind me of Voltaire s satirical Candide who after tragedy and violence, finally finds his just retreat in W e must cultivate our garden As to Michael K, simple but not less alive or aware of who he is Who can be certain to have achieved so much, under such harsh circumstances or so alone I don t know if I would have, at least without a paralyzing despair I was mute and stupid in the beginning, I will be mute and stupid at the end There is nothing to be ashamed of in being in being simple He does not seem stupid, after all.

  2. says:

    Three allegoric movements compose this symphonic tale, whose inert melody is inwardly repeated in a concentric canon of voices where character, writer and reader create a fused metanarration alternating rhythms of disquiet, frigidity and discomfort.It all starts with bafflement.Michael K is an outsider with a harelip, a defective soul whom people take for an indolent moron, a wooden man thrown into the battlefield of life with a past as opaque as his present and as elusive as his future.I read subjugated, tempted to dissect such specimen to find a logical explanation but the text acts as a mirror showing a reflection of myself that is everything but gratifying.Michael K pushes a wheelbarrow that carries his sick mother to her native town in the countryside with little awareness of the phantasmagorical atmosphere that rings in the reader s ears with its muted bombs, disguised mine shafts and nightmarish ambushes Does it really matter whether the civil war occurs in South Africa during Apartheid time Dehumanization knows of no races, no nationalities, no dogmas, and Michael s insignificant life is diluted in the ocean of human misery.Michael K abandons himself to starvation surrounded by sterile nature in a desperate attempt to step out of the Kafkaesque labyrinth of mankind and to return to origins, to reconnect with the earth that nurtures his pumpkin seeds and his gardener soul The silver moonbeams, the sight of every morning and the shadow of the mountain shape his atemporal existence in an alien world where man and land become one Michael K knows he is nothing He doesn t want to die because his life is not even worth telling but ironically he lives in dying intensely than he does in living He refutes the absurdity of an imposed system based on bigoted domination and ruthless abuse and sets for the path of self determination through passive resistance With isolation comes spiritual transformation and echoing one of the most famous bugs in the history of literature, Michael K metamorphoses into a smaller, harder and drier lethargic creature whose consciousness appears and fragmented each passing day.Michael K is captured and sent to a rehabilitation camp His mind obeys because his rebellion wouldn t make a difference but his body acts of his own accord, refusing to be poisoned by food that will revive his emaciated frame into a sellable piece of meat ready to be exploited, mistreated and deprived of identity The initial bafflement gives way to an escalating distress that reaches its pinnacle coinciding with a narrative shift in the second movement of the novella The omniscient Michael K disappears and a first person narrator embodied in one of the doctors of the labour camp takes his place and starts contemplating Michael s motives for his stubborn refusal to eat, making the new narrator reflect on his inculcated beliefs and his reasons to endorse war Why does he feel an irrepressible urge to save this weird man What is the story hidden behind his patient s silence What is he fighting for The doctor s persistent pondering seeps over and into the reader s thirst for answers and his voice takes a universal quality transcending fiction, character and plotline.Doctor, reader, the same Coetzee or even the whole humanity incarnate the metaphorical voice over dwelling on the story of a man without history who understands nothing about wars, political ideologies, dogmatic belief, races, life, death, love or even pain but whose apparent indifference bears a terrifying consistency and a mystical aura reminiscent of Melville s scrivener Bartleby and his motto I would prefer not to Pacifist revolutionary Dauntless freethinker Coetzee doesn t supply answers and his slippery hero dissolves into the reeking darkness of a recondite barrow in the uterus of a depraved civilization where he waits in eternal stand by, oblivious to past or future, to be reborn in a shocking and final third movement where the obscurest of the obscure becomes a prodigy And I, stupefied reader whose life and times are inconsequential, look at the world with closed eyes and see deserts blooming with pumpkin flowers that smell like groundless hope.

  3. says:

    266 The Life And Times of Michael K, J.M CoetzeeLife Times of Michael K is a 1983 novel by South African born writer J M Coetzee The novel won the Booker Prize for 1983 The novel is a story of a man named Michael K, who makes an arduous journey from Cape Town to his mother s rural birthplace, amid a fictitious civil war during the apartheid era, in the 1970 80s 2012 1383 221 9647443242 1385 1396 9789647443241 20 1384 318 1390 262 1384 274 9647905637 1384 299 9647905521

  4. says:

    Ask me to pronounce verdict on a work of literature flaunting mere self indulgent wordplay, revelling in its own brand of avant gardism, which stops short of making a powerful statement on our troubled times, and my response to it is likely to be lukewarm Ask me to judge a book dissecting the greater human quandary with keen insight but in stilted prose, and my reaction will possibly be or less the same But give me a story capable of dismantling all the divides of race, culture, political religious indoctrination, time and space, encompassing all the inner contradictions of our existence into a compelling commentary on human follies that elicits a very visceral, emotional response, and my being won over is practically guaranteed.Reading Michael K s tale took me on one such heart breaking, metaphorical journey, at the culmination of which I realized that pitying the innocence of Michael Ks of the world who are repeatedly squashed like bugs under the bootsoles of the system is but a foolish thing to do Instead, I felt pity for the ones who are incapable of recognizing true misery when they see it, the ones who fail to identify the root cause of all human conflict and its futility, who pride themselves on their achievements which are, sometimes, nothing but grave mistakes in the greater scheme of things.In spite of being born with genetic deformities and other crucial handicaps like the absence of a privileged background, Michael K is a fortunate being in my eyes Someone who doesn t baulk at staring truth right in the eye, a venerable hero stranded in the midst of cowards He can summon the moral strength to shun the comforts of life, deprived of which each one of us are bound to wither away and die the pathetic death of an unwatered plant He can seek refuge in the heart of the inhabitable mountains, combat starvation by feasting on insects and the cherished pumpkins he cultivates with the tender care of a mother He is brave enough to eschew the path prescribed by the ones positioned on the top most echelons of the social hierarchy He doesn t know which side to choose during a war So he chooses life over death, physical suffering over psychological enslavement, creation over destruction Simply put, he deserts the company of men to embrace humanity You are precious, Michaels in your way you are the last of your kind, a creature left over from an earlier age, like the coelacanth or the last man to speak Yaqui We have all tumbled over the lip into the cauldron of history only you, following your idiot light, biding your time in an orphanage, evading the peace and the war, skulking in the open where no one dreamed of looking, have managed to live in the old way, drifting through time, observing the seasons no trying to change the course of history than a grain of sand does We ought to value you and celebrate you, we ought to put your clothes and your packet of pumpkin seeds too, with a label there ought to be a plague nailed to the racetrack wall commemorating your stay here Despite being considered messed up in the head , he understands the one thing that others are too afraid or too ignorant to acknowledge That laying the groundwork for a future way of life through ruthless violence blunts the human intellect to the point where one is only aroused by the urge to draw blood, inflict fatal injury and the application of reason loses its appeal.Michael doesn t understand what a war is, so he struggles to flee the myriad horrors of it, clinging to the last shred of his dignity and his self made definitions of right and wrong As everything falls apart in the cities, in the labour camps, swallowed up by the chaos brought forth during war, Michael busies himself with creating and rebuilding life in the countryside.Thus, Michael is nothing but a representation of that slumbering voice of reason within each one of us, the voice of the dissenter, the voice of the one putting up a passive but stubborn resistance against the absurd, inhumane demands of society at large And that is precisely the reason why this world needs silent revolutionaries like him P.S My only grouse with Coetzee is his pedagogical compulsion to launch into a lengthy discourse, expounding on hidden meanings, instead of having faith in the perceptive reader to grasp underlying implications That caused me to take away that 1 star which I had no intention of taking away otherwise.

  5. says:

    This review dedicated to Ya Boy I ma sip this, you do the rest The Community of Misery Misery loves company I ve always kind of really hated that expression because rightly or not I ve usually deciphered the unsettling subtext whenever it s employed i.e., that people experiencing misfortunes or enduring profound unhappiness prefer that others are likewise afflicted When I was younger, for instance, my father, a nouveau riche who absurdly prided himself on the mythologized poverty of his youth, was fond of the saying, I used to be sad because I had no shoes, but then I met a man who had no feet As a grossly insensitive that is to say, normal child, the idea of a footless man was greatly humorous to me, so the moral was lost I was too busy imagining a sort of idiot manchild waddling around as if on rounded off stilts to bother thinking about the relativism of misery But now, as a highly actualized, compassionate man quit laughing, you fucker , when I think of these sayings, which seem to pit our own misery in a competition with those of others, I find them disturbingly utilitarian or, worse, sadistic In considering Coetzee s exceptionally grim novel Life and Times of Michael K, I am leery of invoking anything that even vaguely stinks of the M.L.C Misery loves company ethos, but at the risk of still calling to mind these allusions, I d prefer to speak of a community of misery Now you Mary Poppins types yeah, the ones who live in a debilitating state of denial regarding their material and existential plight will heckle, jump up on tables, maybe burst into song Who knows But it is fundamentally wrong and, ergo, stupid to deny that misery is a fundamental part of life It is You may call misery by another name, a kinder, gentler, palatable name instead of misery, for instance, perhaps you encounter challenges or suffer setbacks At any rate, let s not fret over semantics, and let s concede that shit happens Holy shit, does shit ever happen And it happens to some people than to other people And perhaps even interestingly some people are better equipped psychologically, biologically to cope with shit than other people are The latter category of people may, pejoratively, be referred to as weak, but in many cases, where unhappiness appears organic, this is akin to saying that the lazy bastard with the leukemia who lies around all the time is merely shiftless But that s another discussion altogether The community of misery I m speaking of is the shared experience wherein we realize that our suffering is unexceptional We discover this, for example, in our day to day interactions with So and So when he happens to say that he wakes up in the middle of the night sweating and shrieking with terror at the realization that his body is a mechanism, a factory of life, if you will, and it operates precariously, without his supervision or awareness and is subject to unforeseeable defects and irregularities That it, like a car or a toaster or a fax machine, may suddenly cease to operate correctly or to operate at all And then you say, Omigod, I do the same thing I wake up in the night shrieking about my strangely mechanistic biology The example is exaggerated, of course, but in the prior instance the Hypothetical You have entered a community of misery You have discovered that you are unexceptional Now usually, you understand, when we speak of something being unexceptional it s generally considered either insulting or dismissive But not so, misery It s a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to be miserable, but it s exponentially worse to imagine that no one has any insight or empathetic entryway to our pain We don t necessarily want to bring people down to our level, but we want to be understood and to not be alone Occasionally, I want to be alone to read, to masturbate, to scribble down my thoughts about this or that , but I don t believe and this is arrogant extrapolation that it is in the nature of the human condition to want to be alone in a greater existential sense We desire community Maybe not even a literal community, but a community of empathy and understanding Michael K Whipping Boy This book is about many things some of them allegorical , but it is also about misery or whatever we choose to call it in our own vocabularies Michael K, the protagonist, suffers what most of us would call, in the vernacular, a pretty fucked up life He s impoverished He s harelipped He s a simpleton His mother is dying and must be cared for He is mostly alone in every sense of the term He is abused seemingly by everyone around him He is subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation by those he meets He is placed in a work camp He hides in an underground burrow His life is undirected it s just bland endurance working toward nothing When I read this book, I was reminded of some of the films of Lars Von Trier, such as Dogville and Dancer in the Dark, in which he introduces a noble and innocent but somewhat naive protagonist Nicole Kidman and Bj rk s characters, respectively into a relentlessly cruel environment and lets the environment fuck her over in the worst way either corrupting or destroying her This is where the comparison ends, however, because while Von Trier is aggressive and manipulative, Coetzee s writing is humane and compassionate Von Trier always seemed to me interested in the environment, in which the naif character is just a cipher, whereas Coetzee here also appears concerned with the victim a term I use with great reluctance because of how it is heavily weighted in society today Allegorical intent aside, what Coetzee creates in Michael K is the impetus for a community of misery in which the readers are forced to identify with Michael K and, later, with Michael K s environment, as the narrative shifts from third person to first person Beyond the social critique of the novel, and at a fundamental level, it addresses what it means to be alone completely, unfathomably alone in the world, in a way that is both moving and unsentimentalized And this is surely a credit to Coetzee s talent Consider the following sentence, in which a doctor at an internment camp speaks of Michael K With Michaels The doctor doesn t know his correct name it always seemed to me that someone had scuffled together a handful of dust, spat on it, and patted it into the shape of a rudimentary man, making one or two mistakes the mouth, and without a doubt the contents of the head , omitting one or two details the sex , but coming up nevertheless in the end with a genuine little man of earth, the kind of little man one sees in peasant art emerging into the world from between the squat thighs of its mother host with fingers ready hooked and back ready bent for a life of burrowing, a creature that spends its waking life stooped over the soil, that when at last its time comes digs its own grave and slips quietly in and draws the heavy earth over its head like a blanket and cracks a last smile and turns over and descends into sleep, home at last, while unnoticed as ever somewhere far away the grinding of the wheels of history continues.This is what great art does, of course It s not rocket science to understand this, but what great writers do is something akin to rocket science inscrutable to laymen, seemingly mystically effective They make us feel less alone and leave us with an augmented sense of the world we live in So if you suffer in a very particular way, yes, you ll almost always find an uncanny affirmation in literature, music, painting, whatever And by seeking to explicate and to understand that pain, art lessens it in some miraculous way And that right there is one of the best reasons to read at all, I think.

  6. says:

    During a civil war in South Africa, Michael K., a simple man born with a harelip, tries to get help for his sick mother then, after she dies, he attempts to take her ashes to the farm where she grew up.There s something powerful yet elusive about this short novel by Nobel laureate J.M Coetzee As in his other Booker Prize winning novel, Disgrace , this fictional world is simultaneously familiar and nightmarish.The spirit of Franz Kafka hovers over the book in the protagonist s name think of Josef K from The Trial in the way Michael is brutally and inhumanely treated by various people he meets and in his self imposed starvation, which suggests Kafka s famous story A Hunger Artist Coetzee refrains from providing many specific details about warring factions Race, interestingly enough, is barely mentioned soldiers prowl the land, asking for identification papers at one point Michael finds himself working in a labour camp But by keeping the details about the political situation vague, Coetzee creates a timeless allegory about suffering and endurance Michael just wants to live, grow his own food he s got some gardening skills and get by Can he do that in this world The prose is at times hypnotic in its understated simplicity uncluttered and clear, devoid of sentimentality.Some readers have found the introduction and perspective of another character late in the book to be jarring, but I felt it added an additional layer of complexity to this enigmatic and haunting novel about living with dignity, freedom and a sense of purpose.

  7. says:

    CONTAINS SPOILERS I.E HIGHLY INSULTING REMARKS ABOUT THE LAST PART OF THE BOOK Uh oh Last thing I want to do is fall out with my bookfacingoodreadinfingerlickin friends such as Donald and Jessica, both of whom think this is so good you have to invent a new word for it, good just isn t good enough, brilliant is almost an insult So as you can tell, I didn t share those views I was so gripped by this book, couldn t wait to get back and finish it today, and then i hit the Doctor s Tale last third and the whole thing fell apart like an overripe pumpkin I loved all the Robinson Crusoe meets Knut Hamsun in apartheid South Africa But I didn t love the Doctor s contorted vapourisings on the subject of lowly Michael K In fact I wanted to Fast Forward very badly But I had to see where all this handwringing and misunderestimating and fancypants codswallop was leading to Seems to me that the Doctor is a horrible Sock Puppet through which the Author can write us a ghastly soft rock new age Alchemist daytime tv philosophy essay on the Lowly and Downtrodden, the Great mass of Forgotten People Why I asked myself why will this man not eat when he is plainly starving Ah, Grasshopper, why indeed You have much to learn Then as I watched you day after day I slowly began to understand the truth that you were crying secretly, unknown to your conscious self forgive the term , for a different kind of food, food that no camp could supply Ah Yes Oh, and then it gets Even Worse when Michael K gets a blowjob on the beach Blimey I may have got up on the wrong side of the bed today, but I m quickly developing a theory that Life and Times of Michael K is the intellectual version of Pretty Woman the movie not the Roy Orbison ballad Sometimes you have to wonder if you re on the right planet.Fans of the Book No you re not, Bryant, fuck off to your own dismal galaxy and leave us all to enjoy our Nobel Prize and Booker Prizewinner Here s a spaceship Now piss off Pretty Woman You must be on drugs Even now I see a crowd of literary critics and Donald with flaming torches approaching

  8. says:

    I have been thinking how much a good book is like an organic thing When the proper level of alchemical transformation is reached between a skilled author at the top of his game and a reader with the proper level of receptivity and empathy then something new and wonderful is birthed You are no longer dealing with some pulped paper glued together with some artful or not cover protecting its frail glyphs but you are in the presence of something larger, vaster and infinitely sacred than just a good yarn designed to kill some time You actually are allowed to see the world through another pair of eyes, observe, act, fail to act, feel, watch an entire life spool out with Technicolor vividness, rest firmly embedded in another for the length of the journey that is the book That is something rare and wonderful that isn t often to be found, but I think it is close to the root of why certain readers trumpet certain authors and books with the fervor of one who has found The Grail or some other talisman of sacred import The Life and Times of Michael K is my most recent experience where I closed a book at its end and felt I had been exposed completely to a real, living soul where I felt the alchemy of a life lived thorough another take place The book is the journey of one frail, physically malformed and mentally challenged man through the horrors of South African during the apartheid era Michael K s journey is one that begins in poverty and oppression, travels outwards into greater malignancies and terrors, and ends in a cruel stasis that might be synonymous with death And yet this book never once struck me as being, depressed, morbid or overly sad Through the strength of the writing I was so utterly with Michael most of the time, I could not stand outside dispassionately and think about what a terrible lot in life he had And while the arc of Michael s journey is pitiful, one of mere subsistence for the greater part, there are also scenes of corresponding beauty that make you realize that even though Michael is a simpleton his connection to the land, to the earth, is something much subtle and deep Michael is a planter and a gardener and he finds what redemption he can from his hands delving into the red clay that is the body of South Africa and though he wouldn t know how to express it, there is sense of completeness and soul solace he achieves there, that makes his life seem not wholly pitiful By letting this half starved , hair lipped, street urchin be the recipient of these small instances of grace, Coetzee is really delivering a quite pass and subversive message the most sordid lives might still seem to the ones experiencing them eminently worth living And by letting Michael K remain his plodding, dim and unaware self throughout this book, after numerous exposures to the brutal injustices of apartheid, war and exile, Coetzee has also delivered a stirring paean to the capacity of the individual, no matter how slight and flawed, to stand and prevail against anything.

  9. says:

    War is the father of all and king of all Some he shows as gods, others as men Some he makes slaves and others, free But how does one differentiate between The Slave and The Free Is that Man a slave, whose captivity by the victor frees him of his worldly expectations Or should we call that Man, free who has no kin to bother about since they have all been enslaved in the war fire Is it possible to live a life without succumbing to either side Or is it inevitable to be one without being the other Coetzee doesn t answer these questions since it would be too insulting for a war survivor But he lifts us up to a devastating height from where we can see the merciless resilience that survival demands from a Man under the darkest clouds of war and death, by focussing our attention to Michael K Michael K is a humble gardener with the local authority and is staying with his aged mother in Cape Town But in the aftermath of the Civil War, when his mother, through fits of falling health, expresses her desire to move back to her childhood place across the countryside, the filial Michael doesn t refuse for long Discouraged by a train reservation not before two months and non issuance of travel permit from authorities, Michael decides to ferry his mother by road on a make shift barrow that he makes indigenously But the journey soon turns out to be his most fatal curse, during which, he not only loses his mother but also loses his many virtues, passions, dreams and even, sensibilities In the war torn land, he is left to fend for himself, getting driven from hospitals to rehabilitation camps But Michael surprises himself when he snatches a brief period of independence from the clutch of his destiny in the form of an abandoned, yet fertile land which he comes to love as his own child and tends to it with renewed purpose But when strangers infiltrate into his little utopia, he once again finds himself at the cusp of decision he watched the water wash slowly across the field, turning the earth dark Now when I am most needed, he thought, I abandon my children He finds drawing different versions of himself from his innards, much to his shock and occasional pride, to counter them His decisions, no matter how inconsequential, stare at him, with a thousand questions in their eyes that to eat, he can kill as well as produce that to sleep, he can befriend day as well as night that to comprehend, he can be mute as well as blind that to survive, he can stuff as well as fast.He gains new perspectives, hopes and emotions while the origin of these new possessions continue to elude him He awoke and squinted into the sun Striking all the colours of the rainbow from his eyelashes, it filled the sky I am like an ant that does not know where its hole is, he thought Wading through captors, dodging policemen, escaping camps, at last, he falls into the hands of a genial Medical Officer who offers him guidance to start all over again This Officer, although bears the brunt of a silent illegal suspect on his infirmary walls every day, confers him the benefit of doubt that every human deserves at least once in his lifetime But Michael, by now, has learnt one of the biggest truths of life it is far worthwhile to die with intensity than to live without it Not being iron was his greatest virtue And so, Coetzee brings us down to that one night into whose stillness Michael walks finally, leaving behind the Slave Michaels that were lost to War and taking along the Free Michaels who might help him weather another War.

  10. says:

    Obviously there re a lot of people out there who write much better than I do, and in this way I feel writing s similar to distance running I can run a passable marathon, though of course a lot of amateur runners out there run a much faster one I m impressed by people who run faster than I can, just as I am by those who write better than me These people are humbling, but they re also inspiring reading good writing or watching good running makes me want to write better and run faster It s healthy to see the thousands of names before my own in the race finishers list, just as it s exciting to read what talented writers have written I like looking at them and thinking that someday by training harder on the road, or working to improve my writing skills, perhaps I might rise a little higher in the ranks And that s nice, right That s a nice little thing Then, though, there are the Paula Radcliffes and Haile Gebrselassies of the world Elite athletes two hour and change marathons aren t exactly inspiring to me in any normal or useful sense, and describing them as humbling is so understated as to be meaningless What these runners do doesn t fall under the same classification as what I and most other people do when we run These runners bodies do not seem human they accomplish feats that aren t physically possible There is barely a relationship between their running and my running, and that s where inspiration in its normal sense stops, and beyond even just being impressed with the individuals themselves, there s not much left to do except sit there and marvel that such things occur.Anyway, sometimes I feel like this when I m reading In the same way that I can t actually believe Radcliffe s human legs are capable of what they have done, I don t quite understand how Coetzee s brain manufactured this book.In my professional capacity, I ve come to know some people who one might describe as being among the wretched of New York City I m talking about impoverished, chronically homeless, physically and mentally ill, largely powerless, pitied, and despised people who spend decades being shuffled through systems and slipping through cracks, sleeping in Port Authority tunnels and on trains and sidewalks, living under conditions that most other people can barely imagine For a long time I ve been impressed by how infrequently I come across good representations of these kinds of experiences in literature and other art forms, but I guess this makes sense Illiterate people with little power or resources don t have much opportunity to create their own literature, and there are clear limits to knowledge of and empathy for these experiences by people who haven t lived through them Okay, so to be fair I probably miss some good books about this, since I don t seek out that kind of literature and even consciously avoid it most of the time This is in part because by the end of the day I m a bit sick of the topic, but also because I do feel many treatments of this subject seem naive, insincere, idealized, unrealistic, or condescending.Not this book I ve known some guys over the years whose existences seem so fascinatingly horrible, but also almost miraculous and even kind of uh, sorry weirdly beautiful I m not generalizing here about the majority of my homeless clients, but thinking specifically of a few who just clearly weren t made for this earth Like the HIV homeless schizophrenic who heard the voice of angels and looked like a saint, and it was just so unfathomable that he lived in a shelter among all this awful, sickening, dirty sad stuff that just had no relevance to him, dressed in gorgeous, outlandish outfits and cheeking his antipsychotics and antiretroviral drugs and talking to God Then those other ones, street homeless for years, guys with mild mental retardation or traumatic brain injury and serious drug problems, who just don t have anything and there s no one who cares about them, and they wander through all these hells and horrors that you ve got to think no one could ever survive, let alone someone with the mental capacity of a kindergartener.But really, it turns out, the world s full of these people, out there navigating streets filled with drugs and violence or being shuttled in and out of mental hospitals and jails and other institutions It s pretty wild and disturbing stuff, and it seems almost impossible to imagine what kind of sense they make of these experiences that I could never fathom undergoing myself This book pushed me further than my own imagination could towards a theory of what it might be like to exist while maintaining some part of oneself amidst levels of chaos and cruelty beyond my comprehension I mean, this from a girl who gets pushed near complete mental breakdown by rude public cellphone use, or girls who spread their stuff out all over the bench in the gym locker room and won t share the space, or people getting uncivil on Bookface I mean, I ve got an extremely low tolerance for any evidence of man s inhumanity a questionable term brutality being similarly problematic to man, and thinking about what it might be like to exist in war torn, apartheid South Africa really does strain the limits of my gentle mind.But Coetzee sent me there, and pushed me through it The Life and Times of Michael K hooked me at the beginning with its chillingly plausible description of homelessness It s rare that reading a novel now, as an adult, can become the completely immersive, empathic experience that reading was for me as a child, but this book did that, and it did it starting in a situation I ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but never lived through myself Michael K follows the journey of a man who was born at the bottom, once the bottom falls out, and even though his situation s much worse than any of my clients , that was one place where it gave a possible answer to some long standing questions I ve had about the people I mentioned above The book gave me an idea of what it might be like to experience things that are nearly impossible to convey in words But as far as I m concerned, Coetzee conveyed them Another place it resonated with my professional experience was the second part of the book, which is from the perspective of a doctor who tries to care for Michael K in a work camp Relating this to my own position as a social worker was such an intensely personal experience that I don t know if I can really get into it here I ll just say that I m really astounded by Coetzee s ability first to cultivate empathy like crazy, then to smash the reader brutally into its limitations At least, that was one way I experienced it.This book presented a vision of individuals, systems, and societies that really is beyond the grasp of my own language abilities to describe or even comment on in a meaningful way It also was just so successful in transporting me into another person and a different world, which is on the most basic level what any successful novel should do I can t begin to guess at how this guy Coetzee s mind works meanwhile, though, I m intimately familiar with how his character Michael K s does Yeah, so it wasn t vastly entertaining or necessarily a lot of fun all the time, but this book was pretty good, all right Its author is, IMHO, among writers what Catherine Ndereba is among marathoners That is to say, I can t pronounce either one of their names, and I have no idea how they do what they do, but I gotta admit that it s pretty amazing.

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