The Childhood of Jesus: Book summary and reviews of The Childhood of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee

The Childhood of Jesus

By J. M. Coetzee

The Childhood of Jesus
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2013,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

Nobel laureate and two-time Booker Prize winner J. M. Coetzee returns with a haunting and surprising novel about childhood and destiny that is sure to rank with his classic novels.

Separated from his mother as a passenger on a boat bound for a new land, David is a boy who is quite literally adrift. The piece of paper explaining his situation is lost, but a fellow passenger, Simón, vows to look after the boy. When the boat docks, David and Simón are issued new names, new birthdays, and virtually a whole new life.

Strangers in a strange land, knowing nothing of their surroundings, nor the language or customs, they are determined to find David's mother. Though the boy has no memory of her, Simón is certain he will recognize her at first sight. "But after we find her," David asks, "what are we here for?"

An eerie allegorical tale told largely through dialogue, The Childhood of Jesus is a literary feat - a novel of ideas that is also a tender, compelling narrative. Coetzee's many fans will celebrate his return while new readers will find The Childhood of Jesus an intriguing introduction to the work of a true master.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [Coetzee's] precise prose is at once rich and austere, lean and textured, deceptively straightforward and yet expansive, as he considers what is required, not just of the body, but by the heart." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Readers new to Coetzee may find this to be somewhat more accessible than some of his other novels, but with its curious tapestry of biblical themes, modern social commentary and ambivalent humanism, TheChildhoodofJesus may actually be one of his most enigmatic. It will surely be discussed for years to come." - Booklist

"Published in the UK in March to mixed reviews, Nobel Prize laureate and Booker Prize winner Coetzee's latest novel will be highly anticipated in the States. The dystopian themes may attract new readers, and students will have much to discuss, but fans of his more potent novels (e.g., Disgrace) may find this effort disappointingly flat." - Library Journal

"This is an unconventional novel indeed, with inscrutable characters wandering through a bleak and tenebrous world." - Kirkus

"At once lucid and elusive….The prose is clear and flat in the special way that Coetzee has perfected." - London Evening Standard (UK)

"Pure, simple prose….Vividly real." - Sunday Express (UK)

"Beautifully put together," - The Spectator (UK)

"Coetzee fashions prose of a lapidary clarity and grace….rich, Riddling fiction, as in the mystery-laden life it plumbs." - The Independent (UK)

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Cloggie Downunder
a unique experience
The Childhood of Jesus is the twelfth stand-alone novel by award-winning author, J.M.Coetzee. David and Simon are newly arrived in the town of Novilla, after being processed at a camp where they were arbitrarily assigned new names and birthdates, and learned some basic Spanish. David was separated from his parents and, on the boat journey to his new country, has lost any information that he once had about them, so Simon decides to help him find his mother. In common with all the townspeople, they arrived washed of memories, but Simon is convinced he will know David’s mother when he sees her. In this environment without any history, the residents count themselves lucky not to suffer from memories of their past and concentrate on making a new life: goodwill and tolerance is common, but passion and yearning are virtually absent. In this slightly bizarre, seemingly third-world and possibly post-apocalyptic setting, Coetzee uses the encounters his characters have with neighbours, officials, work colleagues and random strangers to philosophise about various aspects of life: attraction and beauty; self-belief; work that fulfils; progress; the reality of history; rules and non-conformity; power and law-enforcement; and whether philosophical non-conformity warrants punishment. The novel has a tongue-in-cheek quality: the humour is often warped; there are Biblical undertones and parts are decidedly surreal. The feel of this new world is well conveyed, although readers may find the characters difficult to relate to, as nothing is ordinary in the world Coetzee has created. This is certainly unlike any other novel I have read: a unique experience.

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Author Information

J. M. Coetzee Author Biography

John Maxwell Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940.

Coetzee received his primary schooling in Cape Town and in the nearby town of Worcester. For his secondary education he attended a school in Cape Town run by a Catholic order, the Marist Brothers. He matriculated in 1956.

Coetzee entered the University of Cape Town in 1957, and in 1960 and 1961 graduated successively with honours degrees in English and mathematics. He spent the years 1962–65 in England, working as a computer programmer while doing research for a thesis on the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. In 1963 he married Philippa Jubber (1939–1991). They had two children, Nicolas (1966–1989) and Gisela (b. 1968).

In 1965 Coetzee entered the graduate school of the University of Texas at ...

... Full Biography

Name Pronunciation
J. M. Coetzee: cut-ZEE-uh

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