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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.