The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee – A Review by Andrew Cattanach

by |February 15, 2013

Rarely does a blurb prepare you so perfectly for what you are about to read.

The Childhood of Jesus is not like any other novel you have read.

And it is with the same forthright vagueness, if there is such a thing, that J.M. Coetzee tells a beautiful tale of love, loss, and everything in-between.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. J.M. Coetzee was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature and is the first person to win The Man Booker Prize twice. How does one divorce the incredible achievements of a legendary novelist and concentrate solely on his latest work.

Thanks to the genius of Coetzee, now an Australian citizen, I had no need to worry. I was thrown head-first into a world I never wanted to leave, even if I’d had the choice. From the first sentence the book washed over me. I knew I couldn’t reemerge into my world until I turned the last page.

The Childhood Of Jesus is the story of a young boy, David, and his friend and carer Simón. They enter the story as new arrivals into a foreign land, a land where the Spanish spoken is not their native tongue. We learn that David’s mother had left him to fend for himself on the ship, and gave him a letter tied around his neck with instructions on what to do when he arrived to new shores. Tragically, David loses the letter and finds himself alone. Simón takes care of David and finds a sense of purpose, not only in watching over him but helping him to find his mother.

They try and establish a life together while searching for David’s mother. Eventually Simón finds work, and with it the means for food and shelter for the two refugees while they attempt to build relationships with those around them, sometimes inhibited by the peccadilloes of their new home.

Then one day Simón sees her. He’s sure of it, even if David isn’t. Surely, it must be her…..

Early noise about The Childhood Of Jesus suggested a far more conventional narrative about the infancy of the founder of Christianity. Now that the novel is upon us, it appears a much longer bow has been drawn to Christ’s early days, and only on reflection do we begin to see the cracks widen and the subtle themes emerge.

As with many of Coetzee’s works, much of the novel uses the characters as vessels to explore deeper philosophical issues. Many passages from The Childhood of Jesus may leave you staring into space, pondering bigger things than just ink on paper. It reads like a fable, every word carefully drawn out by the author and together molded into an exceptional, timeless piece of work.

The Childhood Of Jesus breathes hope into a world where there appears none, laughter in a troubled time, a lesson before you’ve realised you were being taught. It may be a big player come awards season this year, so like its protagonists, catch the boat and journey to a strange new land. You won’t regret it.

Click here to pre-order The Childhood Of Jesus from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

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