Life & Times of Michael K by J.M Coetzee: A Review
by Ed Chng

The journey the reader undertakes with Michael K is dark, depressing, and made me question my own existence at certain most poignant parts. The dissolution of his ‘life’ by the ‘times’, both of which he has no control over, compelling.

Agents of the government (police, army etc.) and their brutal bureaucratic treatment of its subjects force upon K a journey of identification. Here is a person who wants dearly to tell his story but cannot find the appropriate bridges between all the various fragments of that story.

And in part 2, where it is finally established why the war was being fought (so that minorities can find their rights/voice), it is hinted that chaos and strife is the way modern man comes to achieve such supposedly noble ends. This is in stark contrast to K, who rejects everything thrown at him, rejects all forms of subjugation. He is presented in a sympathetic manner, consistent with Coetzee’s other books.

While the setting of this book is way more pronounced than ‘waiting for the barbarians’, the race of the characters are never mentioned, even as that distinction remains a pertinent feature of modern South Africa. By omitting the mention of race, Coetzee indicates that racism is not exclusive to South Africa, and aids in us putting more effort into fleshing out and feeling for K.

The doctor, much like the magistrate in his earlier novel, acts as an explicit mouthpiece for Coetzee, stuck in the role of the unwilling coloniser. The unwilling coloniser does not necessarily get away, as the guard who was nice to K and got shot (and the magistrate in Barbarians) demonstrates.