The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee once said of his own writing that instead of creating characters he personified ideas. He’d intended to identify a shortcoming, but The Life and Times of Michael K (Secker & Warburg, 1983) is as good as it is because it makes human some of the thorniest and most interesting human ideas. Set against the backdrop of a fictional Apartheid-era South African civil war, the intellectually slow and ever-earnest Michael K wants no part of the upheaval around him. But it won’t let him be. The novel, which won the Booker Prize in 1983, is a two hundred page mediation on the impossibility of being separate from the times you live in. An idea both timely and timeless. —Ryan Krull