LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
A NEW YORK MAGAZINE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
From the Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. Coetzee, the haunting sequel to The Childhood of Jesus, continuing the journey of Davíd, Simón, and Inés. The Death of Jesus is forthcoming from Viking.
“When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.”
Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town, Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, with the guidance of the three sisters who own the farm where Simón and Inés work, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here, too, that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of. In this mesmerizing allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a “parent,” the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.
The temperature rises ever so slightly in Nobel winner Coetzee's (The Childhood of Jesus) latest, the second installment of his wintry gospel that beguiles as often as it numbs. Coetzee's fable continues as S mon stolid, devoted and In s reticent, passionless have taken their ward, Dav d, and fled Novilla, the stultifying socialist city whose nightlife (which consists of philosophical lectures) is as flavorless as its dietary staple (bean paste). The nontraditional family begins yet another new life, now in a provincial town (in an unspecified country), Estrella, in "the year of the census." Dav d, the "magistral" child whose true name remains a mystery, enrolls in a dance academy whose instructors espouse mystical notions about embodied Platonic forms: "To bring the numbers down from where they reside, to allow them to manifest themselves in our midst, to give them body, we rely on the dance." S mon initially views this as "harmless nonsense," an attitude that widens the gulf between him and his inquisitive charge. He responds to Dav d's ceaseless questions with "dry little homilies" that seldom satisfy the otherworldly child. These Socratic sallies can grate rather than illuminate, and the novel's Biblical allusions can seem more coy than revelatory. In The Childhood of Jesus, Don Quixote's visionary gusto inspired young Dav d; here, there are darker, Dostoyevskian drives at play. Dav d is attracted to exuberant characters who, unlike his guardians, flout conventional morality. Enter Dmitri, a museum attendant infatuated with Dav d's ethereally beautiful dance instructor, to provide a welcome, and violent, jolt of immeasurable passion to the novel's measured world.