Some might think that plucking the main protagonist from the work of a literary genius like JM Coetzee is a bit like tweaking the tiger’s whiskers. But this was not Nthikeng Mohlele’s intention. He has spent at least a third of his life reading and rereading Coetzee’s novel The Life and Times of Michael K. At the last count he’d read it about 30 times, "for fun, learning, reflection", he explains. Years ago a teacher handed him the Nobel laureate and Booker Prize winner’s novel Disgrace and then urged him to read Michael K as well. "It just blew my mind," says Mohlele, who is in Johannesburg to promote the book. He is from Limpopo where, as he puts it, he is a public servant for the state.

In both authors’ books Michael K is an introvert and recluse who hardly utters a word. Mohlele places Coetzee in the novel, also as an introvert, so readers only catch a tiny glimpse of him. Michael K is a depressing character with a cleft palate. He is enigmatic, sad "and he’s got a crooked...

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