- Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
- Coetzee, J.M. — Life & Times of Michael K (182 pages)
Page count: 1684.
As mentioned previously, when I travel I like my reading to be somehow destination-appropriate. So just before heading off to Amsterdam, I browsed through my shelves and could find nothing. Instead, I grabbed a handful of books, flipped through them, and picked the one that most intrigued me at that moment. Thematically, I stayed in Africa; yet while I was in the airport I realized that I had, subconsciously, selected a novel set in a country first settled by the Dutch, one of whose principal languages is derived from Dutch, and written by an author with a Dutch surname. It's as travel-appropriate a choice I could have made without choosing from outside my collection!
Life & Times of Michael K concerns the hardships endured by the title character in a South Africa at war. We are told briefly about his birth with a defect and his upbringing and early career before centering on events that occur in his thirties. His ailing mother declares that she wants to relocate from Cape Town to the farm she grew up on in the mountains. Unable to secure relocation permits, Michael is forced to build a conveyance out of scrap material and attempt to take her up north on foot. The lengthy first section of the book is told from Michael's perspective, as he struggles to understand why others continuously seek to contain or stifle him in one way or another. The short second section chronicles a doctor's struggle to understand why Michael will refuse to let the doctors in the camp help him help himself, during which process his ideas about the world are turned upside down. In the final brief section, we return to Michael's perspective as his journey is completed and his life creed, developed during his life journey, is crystallized.
Life & Times of Michael K is not a happy story. It is full of suffering and misery and conflict, but it left me imbued with a profound sense of calm and optimism.