The first win for one of the prize’s hallowed names, J.M. Coetzee, for The Life and Times of Michael K., and a domestic revelation from the chair of judges that one wouldn’t hear today.

Michael K, with a cleft lip and ‘not right in the head’, has to make a long journey carrying his mother and then her ashes through apartheid-era South Africa during a fictional war. Stages of isolation, malnourishment, mistreatment, and escape must be passed through.

Some critics found in Michael K. a resemblance to Josef K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The chair of judges, Fay Weldon, later admitted disarmingly that she was unused to decision making: ‘My husband makes them all.’ 

J.M. Coetzee
Published by
Secker & Warburg
In his first Booker Prize-winning novel, J.M. Coetzee sets his main character on an arduous physical journey, which becomes a quest for inner freedom.

The Shortlist

Life & Times of Michael K
Prize winner
Rates of Exchange
Flying to Nowhere
The Illusionist

The 1983 judges