South African Literature
By J.M. Coetzee
Coetzee is the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and his reputation as a writer was solidified by this work, which also won him the Booker Prize. First published in 1983, Life and Times of Michael K, rather like July's People, pictures a time of civil war and socio-political upheaval. But Michael K is a survivor. Lowly, without power or ambition, he is a strange, self-possessed, detached person who retains his composure and navigates his way (he makes long journeys on foot, and is twice imprisoned) through the chaos of a society collapsing around him. In the face of the battle for power, he offers the value of gardening, of nurturing life from the earth. The narrative is crisp and riveting, but it is not to be read simply in everyday representational terms. The novel pictures not only one person's way of negotiating the danger and the trauma of a revolutionary situation but, more obliquely, the way in which a writer can achieve a certain freedom and independence in the face of the fierce pressures exerted by history and society.
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