Saturday, May 23, 2009

Life & Times of Michael K - J.M.Coetzee

When his ailing mother wanted to spent the remaining of her time in her birth place near Prince Albert, away from the crowd and chaos of Cape Town, Michael K agreed and carried her in a wheel-cart to the distant town Price Albert, leaving his job as a gardener. The Civil war is at its peak and it is not easy to leave the town. You need permission to enter or leave a place. His initial attempt to sneak out failed and was forced to return. Determined, the second attempt to leave staying away from the highways and prominent places met with better result. However, the on going war and the disaster do not leave him. On the way, his mother was admitted in a hospital and was declared dead by one of the nurse. Not knowing what to do, he finally decides to continue the journey with the ashes of his mother to Price Albert where he will spread the ashes of his mother in the fields as per her wishes. However, the fate does not take him there , as he was caught and was sent to forced labour at the railways. He was released after the work and finally manages to reach the town. The only known name in the place ( as told by his mother) is no more and the farm has been abandoned. Michael starts living there, learning to live the available means. When one of the relatives of the owner returns, defecting from the Army and on the run, Michael leaves the place and hide in the mountains. The living has been tough and in one of his trip to the town, he was caught and sent to a labour camp again. Michael escapes the camp after one of the skirmishes there, and come back to live in the farm. Instead of living in the house, he build his own hut near the lake, and start living there cultivating and farming. The rebels and the military men visits the place in turn and he was again caught by the soldiers and was sent to the rehabilitation camp.
The life in camp was also not of his choice and he refuses to eat. The doctor who treats him gets interested him and tries to understand this man, while trying to cajol him into eating and living. Michael K escapes once again and returns back to Cape Town, where he meets a group of nomads, and get on with their style of living, before returning to the same apartment complex, where he lived with his mother before his departure.

Michael is some one who is a misfit in this society. He does not belong to the world we are living in. The life he carries is almost parallel to what the world. thus, the worldly matters does not affect him. Nor he can adjust with the people. Every attempt to bring him to this world, to the people was a failure as he always escapes to his freedom, to his own life, away from the main stream. While refusing to eat at the camp, he is not trying to commit suicide, but was trying to live in his own terms.

Michael is born with 'hare-lips', but was not interested in rectifying it. He is only 31, but looks much older. the only contact he has in this life, apart form the trees in the garden is his mother. The demise of his mother broke the last connect he had with the people. While there was an attempt to connect to people of his nature towards the end, he still recollect those days in Prince Albert where he was gardening.
"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 simple."

The world around him was also trying to get him back to the ways of life. Robert at the workers Camp, the doctor at the rehabilitation camp and the nomads. But he can not be part of that world. He is living a life of his own at his own terms.
"I am more like an earth worm. Which is also kind of a gardener. Or a mole, that does not tell stories because it lives in silence. But a mole or an earthworm on a cement floor."'

Very interesting book, written by this Nobel Prize winner. It is daunting and disturbing. Michael K , I guess is created in similarity with the Joseph K of Kafka. Haven't seen many comparisons of this sort though.
Life & Times of Michael K
Vintage Books
184 Pages
Rs 335
More Reads : Complete Review , New York Times

No comments: