With this book, Life & Times of Michael K, I think it is safe to say that J. M. Coetzee, along with Haruki Murakami and a few others, is one of the greatest living writers, and he has a lot of awards to show for it, including the Nobel Prize, something I hope Murakami gets in the next few years. Again, it is that mixing of narrative power with keen sense of empathy for whatever subject he is writing about. It is never mere protest or social fiction; it is always something much deeper that goes straight to the human heart. Life & Times of Michael K, his first novel to win him one of two Booker Prizes, is set in a south Africa besieged by civil War. The title character, Michael, is born with a cleft palate and lives in Cape Town with his mother. To all those around him he is a simpleton, who gets the most joy out life by tending to the gardens at work. His mother eventually becomes sick, forcing her and Michael to journey to her birthplace in Prince Albert. On the way there, she dies, leaving the simple, non-violent Michael to fend for himself in this paranoid volatile landscape. We see him arrested, escape, move into his mother’s old house and live off the land, which leads to his near starvation. Throughout all these hardships, Michael never loses his singular sense of dignity. He refuses to pledge allegiance to any side in the civil war, but also willingly participates in exercises and activities in the camp, even when he is inches away from death. He, according to the doctor he meets in the second half, has transcended beyond his need to be a part of anything. He has realized he is not a special person, yet still fights for his right to be free of the need to be a part of anything. There is very little dialogue in the book, maybe no more than a hundred line in the 184 pages. It seems to simplify things, which allows for the profound meanings in the text to shine through the elegant prose stylings. It reminded me a lot of Albert Camus The Stranger, in that Michael is aware of his powerlessness in the face of oppression, and by becoming aware he is able to move beyond the tangible realm of reality into something that is almost too beautiful to understand. Again, what I like so much about books like this is how broad the audience can be for them. It is a short read that can be finished in two or three sittings, but it is still a full meal, with a plot that moves along like a brush fire, and a character who both inspires sympathy and does not ask for it. I really cannot wait to read more books by this living master. If they are as half as good as this book was. I am in for a great treat.