Review and Recommendation of ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ by J.M. Coetzee

Michael K was born with a hare lip and his mother, not liking the sight of him, sent him to an institution for orphaned, unwanted and unmanageable boys where he was raised. Now a grown up in a war torn South Africa he lives by himself in Cape Town and works as a gardener at a local park, his only developed social relationship being that with his now elderly mother. Michael’s mother has worked all her life as a housekeeper for wealthy families and is now, of too bad and fragile health to perform her former duties, allowed a small room to lodge in and kept alive by the last family she worked for. When her street gets evacuated and Michael’s mother is left behind forgotten Michael builds a one-seat pushcart out of his bike and sets off with her out of the city towards the countryside and the farm where she was born and wishes to die.

Life and Times of Michael K is a war story, but from a perspective not often considered. It’s a story about war, but it’s not a story about bravery, camaraderie or disillusionment of soldiers; it’s not a story about cruelty or callousness of generals and it’s not a story about noble sacrifices of the general public. What it is is an exploration of the question

‘What happens in times of war to those who don’t fit the narrow mold for people of use or interest to the war? What happens to the homeless, the sick, the old and the cripplingly poor? What happens in a war to all those who don’t have a stake in the fight and before the war broke out were minding their own business with their hands full just staying alive?”.

Coetzee’s prose is poetic in its simplicity yet powerfully understated and the story is told with a rare sense of empathy that manages to stare the most primitive and animalistic aspects of human nature dead in the face without mock, fright or condescension. The result is a strangely uplifting experience in all it’s dark and brutal honesty.

Truly recommended.

Are we really all that interesting?

by cwviderkull

In debates about whether or not time travel will ever be possible the argument is often raised that it will probably not since if it would be made possible in the future someone would (have) travel(led) back to our time and we would know about it. This is of course a fair point to make but one that has a number of straightforward counterarguments, two of which are also usually presented:

Someone could have travelled back but not made themselves known, perhaps because they didn’t want to cause such a disruption to the past and thereby the future.

Someone could have travelled back and indeed made themselves known but in doing so been taken for crazy.

There is however also a third and perhaps significantly more likely scenario that I have yet to see anyone present:

Perhaps the moment in human history of which we possess awareness are entirely too…

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The Revelation

By the side of an old worn down road in a house that had clearly seen better days a proud yet disillusioned and melancholic man was running a Bed & Breakfast. The road had been a busy one for well over a century, since the traffic was propelled by animals, and the little Bed & Breakfast had flourished under his family’s management for four generations. Now, since a new nearby highway was built a few years ago, he could count the traffic passing in a day on his fingers and toes and he had been forced into the decision of closing the Bed & Breakfast down. There simply was no customer base anymore. Since he was unmarried and didn’t have any children the family business would in all likelihood eventually have died with him anyway but it was still with a broken heart that he finally filed the necessary paperwork and started pondering what he would do with the rest of his life.

Late in the evening of the very last day that he would keep the place open a very old man came wandering along the side of the road, supporting himself on a long wooden staff. He introduced himself to the Bed & Breakfast keeper, explaining that he used to be a priest but had been fired from his congregation after he himself had started to receive visions from god and that he had now committed himself to aimlessly wander the earth, surviving entirely on charity from others. When he thus asked if he could possibly stay the night free of charge the Bed & Breakfast keeper couldn’t hold back a broad smile, thinking that he couldn’t have thought up a more fitting last guest if he tried, and let the priest know that he was welcome to stay as long as he desired, for which the priest thanked him dearly but reassured him that one night would be quite enough. The two men shared a dinner together that night that the Bed & Breakfast keeper, in honor of the occasion, prepared himself, the both of them eating in comfortable silence.

In the middle of the night the Bed & Breakfast keeper was awakened by noise coming from the old priest’s room and, bouncing out of bed in a hurry, he ran down the stairs and the length of the corridor to see what was going on. Opening the door he found the old man twisting and turning in his bed, slamming his staff against the floor and yelling out for the Bed & Breakfast keeper to come to him and seeing that his wishes had been answered the priest calmed down and gestured for the man to come closer to the bed.

‘I had another vision.’

He said with a serious expression on his face.

‘I believe it is to be my very last one and it was about you.’

‘About me?’

Asked the Bed & Breakfast keeper with surprise and obvious disbelief but feeling sympathetic towards the old man he still asked him to go on and tell him what it had been about. The priest gestured for him to lean in even closer and then he told him, in a low and fateful voice.

‘A few days ago there was a child born in the village nearest to here, a son born to a baker and a school teacher. This child is very dangerous and you must kill it. That is your destiny, what you were put here on earth, in this house, to do.’

The Bed & Breakfast keeper couldn’t, and didn’t want to, believe what he was hearing but before he had time to respond the old priest drew his final breath and fell back against his pillow, dead. Going through the motions of all the necessary practical and administrative work resulting from the death of a guest in one of his rooms, the man moved as through a haze, unable to take his mind off the dying priest’s last words. He had always considered himself a person of faith but not to the degree where he would be inclined to believe someone claiming visions from god and he, for obvious reasons, specifically didn’t want to believe in this particular one. He couldn’t seriously be meant to do the unspeakable thing that had been asked of him, could he? Yet, there was something about the look in the dying priest’s eyes that made it utterly impossible for him to entirely shake off the possibility that he might have been telling the truth.

More out of curiosity than anything else, at least to begin with, the Bed & Breakfast keeper during the weeks that followed looked into the details of what the old priest had told him and was rather shaken to confirm that a son had indeed been born to a baker and a school teacher a few days before the incident. It had apparently been something of a miracle since the mother a few years before had been told she would never be able to bear children, a fact that the Bed & Breakfast keeper couldn’t help but interpret as giving weight to the priest’s supposed vision. Not once did he seriously consider going through with what he had been asked to do but he was never able to fully shake it off either and it gnawed on him until he himself died, only a few years later, broken down by the fear of what his punishment might be for refusing to fulfill his duty in the case that it had indeed been assigned to him by god. He was found dead in a chair by his breakfast table, his hair all white and a sad expression of long-term terror on his face.

The son of the baker and the school teacher, utterly unaware of either the priest’s deathbed vision or the anguish of the Bed & Breakfast keeper, grew up to be … just some guy. He works in a grocery store and makes up an enthusiastic cornerstone of a mediocre bowling team. He enjoys classic rock, crossword puzzles, crime novels and reality television, and drinks an entirely normal yet not quite healthy amount of beer.
The end.