Last weekend I read this Booker winning work (1983)from J.M. Coetzee. Its a story of the life of a simpleton called Michael K., who, before the book begins, is used to living on instructions – mostly coming from his mother. On her wish, he starts on a journey to her birthplace, carrying her on a cart, but she dies midway. Suddenly left without directions, Michael continues on the journey and begins to live like a savage. He is happy to be free, but living in a country torn with civil war, he realizes that freedom is fleeting. He is twice arrested for living as a free man and put into camps, where he wages his silent war with a society who wants to force its care upon him against his wishes.
Coetzee has done a wonderful task of drawing for the reader the man’s reception of both freedom and camplife. While Michael finds enormous bliss in his unguided life, forgetting to eat for days and idly enjoying the sun, the camp makes him listless and his body violently rejects even the idea of camp food.
Throughout the book I often wondered if I was reading Kafka. Perhaps it was the directionlessness of Michael’s life, or the detailed description of his every activity that brought the feeling. But at the same time, there were also several references to the Castle, which almost seemed to be taken straight out of Kafka’s ‘The Castle’. To be very sure, I am not a Kafka fan, even though I really like some books which have been described as ‘Kafkaesuqe’ – The Double and The Cave from Saramago featuring amongst my favorites. This book almost seemed to be excessively drawing on the Kafka line, which I found unseemly for a Coetzee who does have a strong style and identity of his own.
Nevertheless, it was an interesting work and makes one question the merits of a socialist regime once again, this time from the view of the beneficiary. Forced food and employment is not necessarily always welcome.