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‘The child is silent. For a while he too is silent. Then he speaks. ‘Please believe me—please take it on faith—this is not a simple matter. The boy is without mother. What that means I cannot explain to you because I cannot explain it to myself. Yet I promise you, if you will simply say Yes, without forethought, without afterthought, all will become clear to you, as clear as day, or so I believe. Therefore: will you accept this child as yours?’
David is a small boy who comes by boat across the ocean to a new country. He has been separated from his parents, and has lost the piece of paper that would have explained everything. On the boat a stranger named Simón takes it upon himself to look after the boy.
On arrival they are assigned new names, new birthdates. They know little Spanish, the language of their new country, and nothing about its customs. They have also suffered a kind of forgetting of old attachments and feelings. They are people without a past.
Simón’s goal is to find the boy’s mother. He feels sure he will know her when he sees her. And David? He wants to find his mother too but he also wants to understand where he is and how he fits in. He is a boy who is always asking questions.
The Childhood of Jesus is not like any other novel you have read. This beautiful and surprising fable is about childhood, about destiny, about being an outsider. It is a novel about the riddle of experience itself.
‘Coetzee is a master we scarcely deserve.’
‘…Coetzee gradually, with great intelligence and skill, brings to extraordinary - possibly divine - life an ostensibly simple story.’
‘A theological and philosophical fable of considerable brilliance, power and wit. Coetzee hasn’t done anything as fine and beautifully executed as this since Disgrace.’
‘Coetzee’s characters play with conflicting ideas in a way that is at once disarmingly simple and maddeningly convoluted. The result is a delightful, stimulating puzzle. The Childhood of Jesus is a beautiful yet complex work that will reward the reader handsomely.’
‘Beautiful but enigmatic fable, written in clean, fierce, present tense prose, seems set in some sort of afterlife…insistently memorable in its spare evocations, it leaves the reader charmed, intrigued, impressed and curious, with much compulsively to ponder.’
‘[A] quiet, haunting novel…Coetzee’s calm, emblematic prose lifts the plot into something redolent with metaphor and mystery…Any statement can become a symbol; every event is suffused with potential revelation; something magical is always present and just out of reach…It’s a memorable accomplishment, turning the everyday into the almost everlasting.’
‘Double Booker Prize-winner Coetzee’s fable has a dream-like, Kafkaesque quality. Are we in some kind of heaven, purgatory or simply another staging post of existence? Clear answers are elusive, but this is a riveting, thought-provoking read and surely Coetzee’s best novel since Disgrace more than a decade ago.’
‘Written with all of Coetzee’s penetrating rigour, it will be an early contender for an unprecedented third Booker prize.’
‘The Childhood of Jesus represents a return to the allegorical mode that made him famous…a Kafkaesque version of the nativity story…The Childhood of Jesus does ample justice to his giant reputation: it’s richly enigmatic, with regular flashes of Coetzee’s piercing intelligence.’
‘[A] moving but mysterious story of a lost childhood…Is it possible to be deeply affected by a book without really knowing what it’s about? Before reading JM Coetzee’s new novel I might have said no - but now I’m not so sure…[As] disquieting as it is moving…[All] I can say is that ever since I finished it, it’s been going round and round inside my head like nothing else I’ve read in ages.’
‘The sense of calm, furthered by Coetzee’s spare prose, is very unsettling…These are not the horrors of Waiting for the Barbarians, this is the horror of banality.’
‘A breathtaking performance, full of the tears in things and the wonders of which we cannot speak.’
‘Poignant and compassionate…A tale that is by turns irritating and deeply satisfying, philosophically soaring yet earthy, maddeningly vague and mercilessly precise.’ 4.5 stars
‘What the reader will remember will be the pleasures available to anyone: the deadpan humor, the swoons of their melodramatic thriller plots, and the beguiling weirdness of the world Coetzee has constructed.’
‘A phenomenal achievement in fiction…The narrative is consistently moving and profound, and incredibly self-sufficient. It creates its own rules and contains everything it needs. To me the journey of the boy David and those around him came across as a fable about our inspiring but ultimately doomed search for meaning. It states the importance of caring for each other, of committing to care, even when social struggle and the worst tendencies of the human spirit get in the way. And in the end literature itself proves to be the strongest tool for meaning and maybe transcendence. I’m eager to read the whole thing again.’