The Childhood of Jesus

The Childhood of Jesus

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
Rate this:

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 job in a grain wharf. The work is unfamiliar and backbreaking, but he soon warms to his stevedore comrades, who during breaks conduct philosophical dialogues on the dignity of labour, and generally take him to their hearts.

Now he must set about his task of locating the boy's mother. Though like everyone else who arrives in this new country he seems to be washed clean of all traces of memory, he is convinced he will know her when he sees her. And indeed, while walking with the boy in the countryside Simón catches sight of a woman he is certain is the mother, and persuades her to assume the role.

David's new mother comes to realise that he is an exceptional child, a bright, dreamy boy with highly unusual ideas about the world. But the school authorities detect a rebellious streak in him and insist he be sent to a special school far away. His mother refuses to yield him up, and it is Simón who must drive the car as the trio flees across the mountains.

THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS is a profound, beautiful and continually surprising novel from a very great writer.

Publisher: London : Harvill Secker, 2013
ISBN: 9781846557262
Branch Call Number: FIC Coet
Characteristics: 277 p. ; 23 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 04, 2020

Different in tone and intent from the author's other novels I have read, Disgrace and Life and Times of Michael K, this one has been called an allegory or a parable. Including Jesus in the title would make us expect a purpose in the events, a comment on the Biblical narratives, but any similarity is muted. The boy called David has or claims he has some unusual powers, yet we sense these only through their effects on his guardian Simon. Still, David's statements are sometimes as puzzling or as unexpected as those of the historical Jesus, so perhaps these traits have suggested the character in the book. Respect for the author keeps me reading this rather bland story and looking forward to reading its two sequels.

Apr 09, 2020

probably the strangest book i have ever read! interesting, well-written, but i'm still trying to figure out the point.

Feb 03, 2019

I was quite looking forward to reading this book, and it was a major disappointment, so much so that I ought not to have even finished it. Its very flat and still. Two people, a man and a boy (not his son), come into an unnamed country (but much like Spain) where they ignore or even forget their past lives and societies and try to make a new life, whilst the man tries to find the true mother of the boy which he has promised to do after they are rescued. Is this a parable on refugees? No. They get some shelter from a government office, and eventually get a small apartment, the man (called Simon) gets a job hauling bags of grain on his back from ships to the transport (a trailer towed by horse!). They go around in the small city, and eventually wander around on a place where wealthy unemployed people play tennis, and where from only a glance, Simon recognizes the true mother of the boy, and tries, eventually successfully, to get her to adopt the boy (but not legally). There are many little homilies and discussions that end in questions, not followed up on. The book gets interesting by the end where they all try to escape because the government wants to send the child to a reform school because the boy is insubordinate and disobedient. We don't know how it ends because the book ends too soon. If this book didn't have "Coetzee" written on it, it would not have got published.

Jun 06, 2017

I thought this would be about the childhood of Jesus, and maybe it was. It seemed to be an allegorical work full of biblical allusions, disguised as a story of a man and his chosen ward who were thrown together by circumstances that changed their lives forever. Simon and little David have fled over the sea to a new land where their old names are gone and their new life begins with renaming, resettling, employment, and, somehow, a forgetting of all their history. Simon is bewildered as he learns more about this new land where everyone is happy, friendly, and somewhat flat. Where is the curiousity and passion for life he vaguely remembers? He is bedevilled trying to answer the many 'why' questions David is always asking. David's life journey is shepherded by Simon and Ines, the woman Simon enlists to be David's mother. A lot is made of the only story book they have to read. Does Don Quixote battle with a windmill, or was it really a monster disguised as a windmill? and how/where does this fit in the story? A mixture of religion and philosophy makes this a book I would not recommend to anyone who wants a straightforward tale with a beginning, middle and end. If you want a challenging read, this may be for you.

Apr 14, 2016

Easy to read. Reminds me of a biblical parable. Not sure what the author's getting at.

Jan 27, 2014

An ambiguous novel. Well written and enjoyable in it's own right. I believe this novel to be a bit of joke by the author on interpreting novels by literary experts. The are many brief allusions to many varied topics but the references to Don Quitote are why I think this might all be a bit of a put up. Enjoyed it even if I there is a point meant by the author that I missed.

Jan 02, 2014

This book is really easy to read, but probably more difficult to fully understand. There's a lot to decipher if you're interested in trying to make sense of how the title relates to the story.

Jane60201 Dec 25, 2013

This is a very weird book about a boy and the adults attached to him wandering through life. I don't think I got the allegorical meaning.

ChristchurchLib Feb 19, 2013

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 Simon 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. Simon'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.
Fiction A to Z newsletter February.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Find it at NWPL

To Top