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The Childhood of Jesus

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  4,772 ratings  ·  734 reviews
After crossing oceans, a man and a boy arrive in a new land. Here they are each assigned a name and an age, and held in a camp in the desert while they learn Spanish, the language of their new country. As Simón and David they make their way to the relocation centre in the city of Novilla, where officialdom treats them politely but not necessarily helpfully.

Simón finds a jo
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 7th 2013 by Harvill Secker
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3.41  · 
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 ·  4,772 ratings  ·  734 reviews

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José Toledo
Jun 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am not much given to write book reviews because, as the saying goes, birds do not make good ornithologists. But with the publication of J. M. Coetzee's latest novel, The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill Secker, London; Viking, New York) I am moved to address the issue of reader engagement or, shall we say, responsibility. That responsibility begins by reading a work of fiction on its own terms. That is, with an open mind. Professional reviewers have been put off by the apparent strangeness of this ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018, modern-lit
This was my first Coetzee for several years - the last new one I read was Diary of a Bad Year, and at that time his new books seemed very gloomy and introspective. So thanks are due to the 21st Century Literature group for selecting this as one of this month's group reads.

This one seems on the surface to be a simple fable. Simon has arrived in a Spanish-speaking country across the ocean and is accompanied by a small boy David who has lost his parents and his identity documents at sea. It is soon
Stephen P
Mar 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
We have all felt that exalted state when a writer seems to write specifically for us. That is part of why I read, I am an exalted state junkie. J.M. Coetzee has been that for me. He took particular care through, Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man, Diary of a Bad Year, to carve these particular novels to my taste. Even books of his that I didn't like, I liked due to the elegance of his authorial voice. So, when, The Childhood of Jesus arrived from amazon, since my hands tend to shake a little, I asked ...more
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
He sits down to create another world. He takes the real world and strips it of all the things that are not required just as he has stripped language of all that is not required, just as he has stripped narrative technique down to third-person I-narrators, even in his own diaries.
We are left with the bones of narrative, the bones of language, the bones of a world. The reduction is clever. For instance, to reduce language even further, we must know that all the characters conduct their (partly hig
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
A hollow egg...

When I was young, Easter eggs were a double treat. There was milk chocolate on the outside and then, when the egg was opened, there was an extra something inside, a small packet of Maltesers, Chocolate Buttons or, for the really lucky, Smarties. (Of course, note well that the Easter egg was also an allusion to the story of Christ.) What Coetzee has given us here is a hollow egg – and one that is, like this introduction, candy-coated with a thick layer of contrived and unsubtle sym
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best kind of parable is one that can convey its meaning through its simplest reading while harbouring depths into which the reader can dive deeper and deeper without ever reaching a hard and fast 'moral' at the bottom. For me, what makes 'The Childhood of Jesus' seem such a feat is the great complexity of thought it provokes through the telling of a relatively straight forward (but very moving) story, exploring ideas of morality without preaching or passing judgement.

The novel follows a boy,
Mar 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
There are moments in this novel when I felt that perhaps, at last, something interesting might be said. But it was not to be. There is not a single original bone in its body. Trite, derivative and devoid of true depth. Imagine a Saramago novel with all of the genius sucked out. If this was by an unknown writer I may have stretched to two stars for some of the pages, but as I know what he is capable of, he gets one star and an F- in big red pen.
The right to be different
To be absolutely clear: this is not a religious book, it isn't even about Jesus. On the contrary, This rather is a very disturbing novel, clearly a dystopia.

For starters there’s the setting: a vague country, where people arrive by boat, as refugees, "washed clean" of their past. The main characters, the older man Simon and the little David (the boy he took care of during the boat trip as refugee), are such refugees. The order in the new country is consciously left impe
Sep 15, 2013 marked it as skimmed  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways-winner
This had been sitting around on my shelves for years. I read the first chapter and then quickly skimmed the rest; I found it unutterably dull. It wouldn’t be fair of me to give a rating given that I barely glanced at the book, but I’ll just say that it would take me a lot of secondary source reading to try to understand what was going on here, and it’s not made me look forward to trying more from Coetzee (especially not the presumed sequel, The Schooldays of Jesus, from the Booker longlist).

Simon Robs
"There is no place for cleverness here, only for the thing itself." Rest assured this random quote speaks inordinately to this book as thing itself shy of clever overreach, a gradual release of fey plot maneuvering to allegorical clump, a nod, a wart, gone. David's downline Jesus, [no Jesus in these pages] Jesus' apostle Simon, an unknown birth mother, miracles of imaginative almost. It's a refugee story that's half told and left wet. Childs play make believe. That.
Tanuj Solanki
Two stars only because of the suspicion that I must have missed something grave in the text - because it's Coetzee for God's sake. Very shockingly bad! If he'd written if before the Nobel, the committee would've had second thoughts.

Read Disgrace and Life and times of Michael K - avoid this.
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well well well, what do we have here. Some sort of abstract allegory? A parable (or series of parables)? An anti-philosophy rant? A pro-philosophy rant? What is the nature of this book?, the book itself practically begs us to ask.

What is the nature of nature, what does it mean to live in this world,
_how_ do you live in this world. At times, the book seems to be a series of abstract, conceptual, philosophical conversations [1]. But there's a story, too: a strange, inexplicable story of a man (Sim
Sep 08, 2013 rated it liked it
THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS. (2013). J. M. Coetzee. ***.
I have to admit that if this book had been written by anyone else besides Coetzee, I would have put it down early on. As it was, I’m not sure I got the point of it at all. Where the title came from I have no clue. It’s the story of a young boy who is traveling to a new land on a ship who gets separated from his mother – who was apparently traveling separately. He had a note on where and how to find her, but the note got lost during the voyage. H
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
john maxwell's books have become increasingly more enigmatic over the past decade, frustrating both critics and fans alike. whereas the early works of the south african nobel laureate are marked by post-colonial violence, the injustices of apartheid, the cascading effects of history, and defiance of institutional rule, his later efforts have trended more towards the philosophical than the overtly political. coetzee's output over the past decade, including elizabeth costello, slow man, diary of a ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
The book seem to part of a really long series (of which only two parts are published so far) that will allegorise life of Jesus and which Coetzee is still working on - and that might perhaps explain why it seems to unsatisfying as a story - or rather as a part of a story. Coetzee's books are often as strong as ideas discussed in them but, in this case, the ideas didn't hit me with the force I have gotten used to be expecting.
When Simon is teaching 6-year old David, a refugee to Novilla along with Simon, to read Simon reproaches David that he must submit to what is on the page, not fill it in with his own fantasies. That he must not just look at the pictures and then guess at the story. David, ever petulant, ever adverse to any reasoning but his own, rebels against this method. What is Coetzee getting at here? If he is advising us as readers to submit to what is on his page, what part? The title? David shares affinit ...more
Aseem Kaul
Oct 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-novel
Coetzee's new novel, The Childhood of Jesus (though I can't help thinking The Childhood of Wittgenstein would be more accurate) is both an intensely fascinating and a deeply frustrating book.

Fascinating because it is set in a nameless country that is half Paradise, half Saramagian bureaucracy, a land at once eerily familiar and governed by a bland illogic all its own; because it is a novel shot through with ideas, with endless variations on the essential duality of human existence, the contrast
Coetzee is a writer I will always come back to, every turn he took in his writing so far: I will gladly follow. However: this one I just couldn't get into. Surprisingly dull and full of narrative traps which he seems to have laid out for himself (he's Coetzee, so he knows how to solve them somehow, it just really doesn't help the book). I can't seem to get a grasp on what it's about in essence and while sometimes I can find that quite intriguing if there's something that resonates with me, in th ...more
Ravi Gangwani
The most shocking betrayal of all time ... This was all I have to say on this.

I really doubt that this has been written by the same writer who has written legendary work like 'Life and Times of Micheal K', 'Youth', 'Disgrace', and 'Boyhood'.

Throughout my reading I was pondering on is it the same Coetzee to whom I adore so much has penned his energy into this book ?

I was so much attracted to the title that it made my expectation very high, but sadly it was no where close to Coetzee's previous wor
Aries Poon
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
J.M. Coetzee, the first two-time winner of the Booker Prize and a literature Nobel laureate, is getting odder and more obscure. Reading his latest novel The Childhood of Jesus, I felt like being led by a highly acclaimed tour guide into a dark forest, and we were both lost.

Literary critics dare not to be too harsh, because it's Coetzee we are talking about. Many of them did say the plot was mysterious and it wasn't clear how the child David was an allegory of Jesus. One of them even conceded she
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel, fable
I nominated this book for the March monthly read of the 21st Century Literature GR group as Coetzee is a Nobel prize winning author, I enjoyed two of his other books (Disgrace and Slow Man), this book has been on my shelf for a couple of years, and the Group has not previously read any of his work. To my surprize it won the voting and I agreed to moderate the group read. This caused me to read it in advance so I could be prepared for the group read.

The story takes place, for the most part, in a
Chris Dietzel
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was the only remaining work of fiction by Coetzee that I hadn't read--due entirely to the fact the book is out of print and I couldn't find a copy until buying one for $0.50 at a library book sale (it made my day). I went into this really wishing the title had been different since it's not a story of the childhood of Jesus. Instead, it's a modern story of a boy who can't fit in because he thinks in different ways than everyone around him. As I went on, though, I found myself appreciating th ...more
Shashi Martynova
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated
Very shrewd and deft thing, this novel, with sharp-pointed voice and poker face. There's a sense, that the author made the universe with much much more to weave into it (meaning not "saying more", but in much more intricate detail), though I can't appreciate enough the crystal lucidity of the style chosen, and with this style it's very easy to stray into enthalled dive of minutae of this queer and sometimes eerie utopia.

And yes, author's tongue-in-cheek is nothing but charming.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was my first book by Coetzee, and I found it to be bleak & mysterious yet strangely beautiful. Looking forward to The Schooldays of Jesus.
Jul 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
It is as if the numbers were islands floating in a great black sea of nothingness, and he were each time being asked to close his eyes and launch himself across the void. What if I fall?— that is what he asks himself. What if I fall and then keep falling for ever? Lying in bed in the middle of the night, I could sometimes swear that I too was falling — falling under the same spell that grips the boy. If getting from one to two is so hard, I asked myself, how shall I ever get from zero to one? Fr
This strange and absorbing fiction from Nobel Prize winner Coetzee has a post-apocalyptic feel. We meet a five-year-old boy, David, and a man, Simón, who have been given names as part of their relocation from where and to where, we never learn. We know only that they are refugees and that they stayed some time in a camp called Belstar where they learned Spanish in preparation for their move by boat to Novilla. People in Novilla can’t remember the past and appear to have no curiosity about it. Th ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it liked it
In reading this book—after being attracted by its title—I was struck by three possibilities: either Coetzee got his story of Jesus confused because there is no one-to-one parallel with the Biblical version, or because of this confusion, he wanted to draw our attention to the Jesus story and came up with the title to remind us about what he was writing, or he wanted to re-draw the Biblical story and highlight anomalies in the original, leaving room for us to draw our own conclusions. I decided th ...more
Neal Adolph
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it
With a book like this, it is hard to know what is a spoiler and what isn't - you don't often read Coetzee for the plot, but for his challenging ideas. Dear Lord, prepare to be challenged.

It is a story about two people, a man, Simon, and a boy, David, who come to a new land where they forget about everything. Their new life together and apart and together is chronicled through the slow, everyday changes that impact their lives. They are not father and son, just accidental comrades in a new, nearl
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
I loved ‘Disgrace’. I found bits of ‘Elizabeth Costello’ provoking (there is a powerful piece of writing about vegetarianism). This novel is more enigmatic. Reviewers have been kind to it - the following will give you an idea of the tenor of commentary: “This is a piece of fiction, at once baffled and wise, full of a radiance and gravity that the language absolutely embodies.” Lots of abstract nouns bandied around in reviews.

In the end I found it kind of bloodless, despite some promising aspects
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
At face value this is another of Coetzee’s mildly disorienting, slightly claustrophobic, and rather abstract tales. As so often with this author this novel seems to divide his readership. Many find it unbearably tedious. Others are challenged and find it mobilizes their interpretative faculties. I seem to be moving from the former to the latter position.

There is tedium in this book. The prose seems to be deliberately toned down, almost wooden at times. The dialogues, particularly in the latter
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John Maxwell Coetzee is an author and academic from South Africa. He became an Australian citizen in 2006 after relocating there in 2002. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee has won the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.
“Why?' says the boy.
'Why? Because staying alive is more important than anything else.'
'Why is staying alive more important than anything?'
He is about to answer, about to produce the correct, patient, educative words, when something wells up inside him. Anger? No. Irritation? No: more than that. Despair? Perhaps: despair in one of its minor forms. Why? Because he would like to believe he is guiding the child through the maze of the moral life when, correctly, patiently, he answers his unceasing 'Why' questions. But where is there any evidence that the child absorbs his guidance or even hears what he says?
He stops where he is on the busy sidewalk. Inés and the boy stop too, and stare at him in puzzlement. 'Think of it in this way,' he says. 'We are tramping through the desert, you and Inés and I. You tell me you are thirsty and I offer you a glass of water. Instead of drinking the water you pour it out in the sand. You say you thirst for answers: 'Why this? Why that?' I, because I am patient, because I love you, offer you an answer each time, which you pour away in the sand. Today, at last, I am tired of offering you water. 'Why is staying alive important?' If life does not seem important to you, so be it.'
Inés raises a hand to her mouth in dismay. As for the boy, his face sets in a frown. 'You say you love me but you don't love me,' he says. 'You just pretend.”
“But two and two do equal four. Unless you give some strange, special meaning to equal. You can count it off for yourself: one two three four. If two and two really equalled three then everything would collapse into chaos. We would be in another universe, with other physical laws. In the existing universe two and two equal four. It is a universal rule, independent of us, not man-made at all. Even if you and I were to cease to be, two and two would go on equalling four.” 2 likes
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