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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good
Written in close third person, from the perspective of Simon, a man whose main task it is to find the mother of a boy, David, to whom he has become attached as a sort of guardian. They have arrived in a strange Spanish speaking land, via a resettlement camp, where the inhabitants seem to have been cleansed of the disagreeable human traits, such as lust, desire and...
Published 9 months ago by David

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3.0 out of 5 stars Abstract: for Coetzee fans only (I am starting to enjoy it.)
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My partner is Polish and an immigrant and she likes this novel. She feels it is saying something to her about being an immigrant - powerless and exploited.

I have only read bits of it and the reviews. It does not appeal to me. The subject matter is abstract, the setting is abstract, the ending is enigmatic. It seems to me to be a novel for Coetzee...
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good, 9 Mar 2014
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Written in close third person, from the perspective of Simon, a man whose main task it is to find the mother of a boy, David, to whom he has become attached as a sort of guardian. They have arrived in a strange Spanish speaking land, via a resettlement camp, where the inhabitants seem to have been cleansed of the disagreeable human traits, such as lust, desire and anything remotely frivolous. Simon has trouble accepting this and is constantly questioning the behaviours of the people around him. E.g. how can they be satisfied with a diet of bread and water, and do they not miss physical contact?

He finds employment as a stevedore, manually unloading grain at the docks only to later find that the grain is stockpiled and left unused whilst it is eaten by rats. When he questions this, and also asks why a crane is not used instead for the sake of efficiency, he discovers that the main purpose of the work seems to be the work itself and the comradeship of the workers.

Against this backdrop he pursues his goal of finding David’s mother, though David seems to be relatively ambivalent about it. In his pursuit he seeks to do the right thing and instil in the child both a moral code and a thirst for life which frequently comes into conflict with their new environment and with David’s apparent autistic tendencies.

I read purely for enjoyment and tend not to look for - or notice - deep meanings and analogies of which, given the books title, there could be many here. However, personally, I think that Coetzee is having a bit of a laugh with us. The writing throughout is brilliantly clear, crisp and simple. Mostly set in dialogue, it is an easy but engaging read and, most importantly, very, very funny.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enigmatic and chilly, 9 May 2013
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This is the enigmatic tale of a man and a boy who arrive together in a strange land and have to build a new life there. The man is unrelated to the boy and is intent on finding the lad's lost mother.

Cool and measured in tone, and using the present tense throughout, the novel observes the stages of their journey. Where have they come from? What country are they in? Where will they end up? We are never told, and the unanswered questions, along with the puzzling title, invite interpretation.

Coetzee has relieved us of beginning and end and leaves us with pure story: a kind of fictional eternity, cool and passionless, where no meat is eaten, no love made, and everyone is rational and satisfied with their lot - except for the man, the boy, and the people that tag along with them...
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between the Numbers, 7 Mar 2013
By 
Mooch (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Hardcover)
In tone part way between film and dream; in meaning almost a fable, not quite an allegory, Coetzee's new novel is a pleasingly elusive beast. Pleasing, that is, unless you prefer to pin down a coherent explanation or message from the books you read, in which case you may find The Childhood of Jesus maddening.

Taking place in an alternate but recognisable reality, the story follows a man (Simon) and a boy (David) who have journeyed from across 'the waters' to set up a 'new life' in a non-Spanish Spanish-speaking place called Novilla. They are not related but Simon has appointed himself David's guardian until he can find - purely by his own instinct - David's 'real mother.'

The book is about 90% dialogue and speech is strangely formal as the characters are not speaking in their first language. It appears to be set in a time resembling the fairly recent past. There are TVs, telephones, but no moblie phones or computers. Details of the world the characters inhabit are rationed to the reader, a morsel matter-of-factly given out now and then, when the story requires it, and the story takes unusual, sometimes absurd turns. All this creates a feverish, unstable atmosphere wherein we are unsure what to trust, nothing seems solid. Things in the book are both true and untrue, no-one eats meat... but actually they kind of do. People don't have sex... but in fact they sort of do. No-one remembers anything from their 'old life'... but they are able to discuss concepts that don't exist in the 'new life,' It is a world without religion... but religion, God and nuns are mentioned. It's afterlife as afterglow - ghostly remnants carry over from our world, incomplete, like a waking dream of a glimpse of a memory.

Picking out meaning in The Childhood of Jesus is like grasping for fish in a stream, just when you think you have a hold on something it wriggles back into the alluvion. It feels as though Coetzee is imagining our world without Christianity, proffering a Dark Knight-esque superhero origin story. Simon's role accords to the role of the biblical Simon (St Peter); a new recruit to David's 'brotherhood' near the end is called Juan (St John); the 'mother' found for David is a virgin; when Simon and David arrive at Novilla they are forced to sleep in a makeshift shelter in a yard a la The Stable etc etc. It's like the story of the nativity after a long game of Chinese Whispers. Or after having been translated into 5 languages in turn then back round into English.

But the boldly unambiguous title to this deeply ambiguous book brilliantly pulls the rug from under such an easy interpretation - not the only bit of dry humour in the piece. There is plenty in the book that does not fit with this reading, other threads that catch and release. At one point I detected something about Tea Party-ish militant rejectionism in the way the willful boy David refuses the need for 'experts' to teach him how to read, write or count. But it turns out he really didn't need their help. I even thought I was on to something when I noticed that the significant women in the story - in order of their appearance - have the initials A, E, I, O... but then it turns out the expected Senora U never shows up.

Themes emerge from the derangement: irrationality; passion; individuality; the afterlife; dissidence; uncertainty; the search for a meaning to one's own life, never mind in a literary novel. Perhaps most of all it is about reading itself. Maybe Coetzee shows a bit of leg when he has Simon and David argue about who has the right to interpret a text they are discussing. Or maybe I'm not smart enough to tease out the real meaning. Or could it be that the writer is teasing us, the readers, the interpreters, the seekers, the followers?

I don't think there is a fixed hidden meaning to decode with one's X-Ray reading specs. Written by an intellectual, The Childhood of Jesus is in fact a sensuous experience in which the real unspools. Keep it in your bookcase, you'll want to re-dream it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Coetzee's Utopia, 8 Aug 2014
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Paperback)
J. M. Coetzee has always been an ambitious writer, tackling head on major human problems, be those on the individual or on the societal level.
‘The Childhood of Jesus’ is in this way not an exceptional Coetzee book, albeit (again) a controversial one, directly (by what it says) or indirectly. It treats recurring themes in his work.

First of all, this book is written in impeccable prose, and is a far cry from his Beckettian beginnings.
The basic story is very simple: a man is looking for the mother of a very young boy (not his child) in a foreign country that is well organized for the integration of all foreigners who arrive at its shores. Those foreigners should, however, all be ‘washed cleanly’.

On the individual and family level, the boy is an exceptionally intelligent human being. He is helped, protected and loved in an exemplary way by his surrogate parents. Are they better, or fitter, than natural ones?
Being clever and (therefore) rebellious, the boy has big problems in the existing educational system.
On another level, the foster father is a great fan of the frugal diets based on grain in his new country.

On the societal level, the foster father becomes a longshoreman, unloading on his back vessels full of sacks of grain, real ‘bestial labour’. He proposes to mechanize the process with a crane. But, the crane is badly handled and hits him. Does this crystal clear image mean that technical progress is a curse for mankind? Because, it destroys jobs, because it makes men idle? As stated in the book: ‘I would not dream of disparaging the work we do. In the time I have spent here I have experienced nothing but comradely love. Imagine having to spend your days on a public bench with nothing to do.’ This is Kropotkin revisited.
The grain silos are infested with rats. But those are left alone. A peaceful cohabitation with wild animals (rats) wasn’t a blatant success in the course of human history.
The country has also a ‘nurse’ solution for man’s sexual drive.

However, the main problem for the surrogate family is the education of the young boy. Being stubborn, the school administration is obliged to put him in a camp with a special regime for difficult children. Will the foster parents, ultimately, accept this authoritarian measure, or will they leave their new fatherland and search for a new utopia for their foster child?

‘The Childhood of Jesus’ is a typical Coetzee book. However, as an introduction to his work, I would begin with less ‘utopian’ novels, like the masterpieces ‘Foe’ or ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’.
I also highly recommend the movie ‘Disgrace’ by Steve Jacobs, based on J.M. Coetzee’s (also controversial) book and with a sublime John Malkovich in the main role.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surreal story questions reality, 18 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Paperback)
The young boy David and his adopted guardian Simon arrive as refugees in a strange surreal new world. Provision is very basic, but they survive. David settles with his apparent mother, while Simon works at the docks. David shows signs of autism/Asperger’s syndrome, and constantly challenges the realities he encounters. Coetzee uses this device to question accepted norms and the objectivity of nature, society, and artefacts, ranging through sex, numbers, work, the financial economy etc. Is life as we know it contingent – it could all be otherwise? The story’s characters are the human mix of good hearted and bad. It’s not clear how David represents the Jesus child motif, except in the constant questioning of his elders. It’s an absorbing story, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere intellectually.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Abstract: for Coetzee fans only (I am starting to enjoy it.), 21 Aug 2014
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My partner is Polish and an immigrant and she likes this novel. She feels it is saying something to her about being an immigrant - powerless and exploited.

I have only read bits of it and the reviews. It does not appeal to me. The subject matter is abstract, the setting is abstract, the ending is enigmatic. It seems to me to be a novel for Coetzee fans.

.

My partner also enjoyed this book: Coetzee Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej (in Polish)

Coetzee Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej by Slawomir Maslon (Paperback)

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I have read and enjoyed 'Disgrace' and 'Youth'. The discussion of sex in Disgrace was shocking and interesting. From what I remember the discussion about sex in Youth was unpleasant and honest.

.

My partner asked me to read a passage about sex in The Childhood of Jesus. The sex was not penetrative sex, it was a discussion about beauty. We know that beauty and attractiveness are not the same. Youth is attractive, age is ugly.

.

There was a comparison with hunger:

If you feed 'sex' you want more. If you feed 'hunger' you are satisfied.

But we know people over eat and become obese. Most people are on a diet. Some people eat just because they can. They are not feeding hunger, they are feeding other needs. So when people are feeding sex are they feeding other needs?

.

I read a review, Getting Past Coetzee, which suggested that the author of the review had moved on. So what is left? Does the name "Jesus" sell books and make it relevant?

.

How old is Coetzee now? Born 1940, 74 years old. Living in a foreign country. Is his best work behind him?

++++

I read a little bit more last night. Quite an engaging little passage. At the end of which I could close my Chrome Book without feeling the need to come back to it. This time it was an old man explaining to a six year old boy that we all have an immortal soul.

I believe that Coetzee is writing a parable.

Coetzee describes a six year old boy as have a pleasant milky smell. I wonder when the last time he smelt a six year old boy was.

glad to see you've got religion ~ loudon wainwright III

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsp7IowSB9g

+++++

My partner really likes this book. I started reading it in the middle and suddenly found that I was more interested and engaged.

What if Jesus appeared today?

How would he be received?

This is an idea that I had a long time ago.

At the moment it is just a story, but the chapter on how the Education authorities treat 'children' was quite interesting. My partner is of the 'anarchist' persuasion.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Oh heck, 25 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Paperback)
Here's the thing: excellent start - ambiguous, intriguing, sinister - introducing a world where 'goodwill' is a substitute for passion and individuality. Then it gets muddled, with clunky Biblical symbolism and a charismatic child who, because of repetitious dialogue and lack of structural development - becomes just annoying.

What I think is more successful is Coetzee's creation of a colourless world suffused in austerity, where even the learning of language and philosophy is joyless.

I'm happy to have read this novel. It makes the reader search between the lines for meaning (even though they might not find anything there).
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5.0 out of 5 stars A mystical treat, 23 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Paperback)
Really enjoyed this book as much as Coetzee's others. Gave me lots to think about in between chapters and philosophise about. I think the ending was perfect (some others don't!) and i would thoroughly recommend this book if you are a fan of Coetzee, enjoy a biblical allegory or are just after something to get you thinking....
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3.0 out of 5 stars serenely philosophical, 15 Feb 2014
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The author doesn't explain the background context and history which brings us to the story. It's as if the reader has just stepped in and travels a while with the characters. But the narrative is engaging and real. There is a undercurrent of deeper meaning which is allusive and keeps you captivated
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Childhood of Jesus, 8 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Childhood of Jesus (Hardcover)
I love this writer. His style is clear and spare. It's about an immigrant and lost boy who try to make a new life in a new land. The boy is not called Jesus but it could be the second coming! Front cover of people in what looks like the 1930's seems to bear no relation to a book set in my opinion in the future when memories of the past are erased. They search for the boy's mother....not Coetzee's best.
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The Childhood of Jesus
The Childhood of Jesus by J M Coetzee (Paperback - 2 Jan 2014)
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