The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

68%

10 Critic Reviews

When his novels are working...Coetzee's ideas are big enough to seize us, to give us a new set of lenses on the world. With "The Childhood of Jesus," however, the allegory never extends beyond itself, beyond the image of a small group of wanderers, adrift in an uncharted universe...
-LA Times

Synopsis

A major new novel from the Nobel Prize–winning author of Waiting for the Barbarians, The Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace

Nobel laureate and two-time Booker Prize winner J. M. Coetzee returns with a haunting and surprising novel about childhood and destiny that is sure to rank with his classic novels.

Separated from his mother as a passenger on a boat bound for a new land, David is a boy who is quite literally adrift. The piece of paper explaining his situation is lost, but a fellow passenger, Simón, vows to look after the boy. When the boat docks, David and Simón are issued new names, new birthdays, and virtually a whole new life.

Strangers in a strange land, knowing nothing of their surroundings, nor the language or customs, they are determined to find David’s mother. Though the boy has no memory of her, Simón is certain he will recognize her at first sight. “But after we find her,” David asks, “what are we here for?”

An eerie allegorical tale told largely through dialogue, The Childhood of Jesus is a literary feat—a novel of ideas that is also a tender, compelling narrative. Coetzee’s many fans will celebrate his return while new readers will find The Childhood of Jesus an intriguing introduction to the work of a true master.
 

About J.M. Coetzee

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J. M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 and is the author of twenty-one books, which have been translated into many languages. He was the first author to twice win the Booker Prize. A native of South Africa, he now lives in Adelaide, Australia.
 
Published September 3, 2013 by Penguin Books. 280 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Childhood of Jesus
All: 10 | Positive: 9 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average
on Jul 07 2013

This is an unconventional novel indeed, with inscrutable characters wandering through a bleak and tenebrous world.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Joyce Carol Oates on Aug 29 2013

Like J. M. Coetzee’s richly symbolic early novels...his starkly narrated new novel plunges us at once into a mysterious and dreamlike terrain..."The Childhood of Jesus” is set in a possibly posthumous limbo in which a haze of forgetfulness has enervated most of the characters, as in a paralyzing smog.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Aug 28 2013

As with his last three novels — “Elizabeth Costello” (2003), “Slow Man” (2005) and “Diary of a Bad Year” (2007) — “The Childhood of Jesus” is as much a work of philosophy as fiction. It’s static, didactic, oracular. The storyteller in Mr. Coetzee has been almost entirely subsumed by the sophist.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Benjamin Markovits on Mar 02 2013

He doesn't shout at you. He doesn't try to force on you any kind of facial expression...He knows what he's doing but he's not going to tell you what that is, and I spent much of The Childhood of Jesus trying to figure it out.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Theo Tait on Feb 27 2013

The Childhood of Jesus is a very mysterious novel: I finished it impressed, intrigued and confused, without any clear sense of what it was actually about. Of course the vagueness is part of the point...

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Ellen Akins Star Tribune on Aug 31 2013

His craziness still takes a fictional form that is as provocative as it is readable. Who knows what this fable-like story means? I don’t. But it’s still more fun, more interesting to read, than just about anything else.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by David Ulin on Sep 05 2013

When his novels are working...Coetzee's ideas are big enough to seize us, to give us a new set of lenses on the world. With "The Childhood of Jesus," however, the allegory never extends beyond itself, beyond the image of a small group of wanderers, adrift in an uncharted universe...

Read Full Review of The Childhood of Jesus | See more reviews from LA Times

Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Jason Beerman on Apr 19 2013

The Childhood of Jesus is an affecting novel full of intriguing characters and topical themes, including immigration, national identity and the social good.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Richard Poplak on Jun 18 2013

Yet what drives this curious and brilliant book is the disquieting sense that, “if we were all special,” as Simón puts it...And the fact that our prophets — our Fathers, our sons of God — need us far more than we need them.

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National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Richard Poplak on Jun 14 2013

For all this, Childhood resists direct readings, to say nothing of direct political interpretations. I doubt that it is meant as either an endorsement of Socialism with a capital “S,” nor a suggestion that these characters would flourish as more committed capitalists.

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Reader Rating for The Childhood of Jesus
57%

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