The Childhood of Jesus

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The Childhood of Jesus
First edition hardcover
AuthorJ. M. Coetzee
PublisherJonathan Cape; Viking Press (U.S. edition)
Publication date
March 7, 2013 (2013-03-07);
September 3, 2013 (U.S. edition)

The Childhood of Jesus is a 2013 novel by South African-born Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee.[1] The book was published on March 7, 2013, by Jonathan Cape.[2] The U.S. edition was published on September 3, 2013, by Viking.


The book follows a man and a boy who immigrate to a new land. Once there, they receive new names and rough estimates of their age and are taught Spanish in an attempt to acclimate them to their new surroundings. Simón, the elder of the two, begins working at a grain wharf and slowly befriends his fellow workers. At the same time, Simón must find a way to locate the mother of the young boy David, who remembers nothing about her but assumes that he will recognize her when he sees her. During a walk, David attaches himself to a woman he believes to be his mother, prompting Simón to successfully talk her into assuming the role. However, while she begins to care for David, the authorities insist that he be sent to a distant school. Refusing to give him up, Simón and the woman flee in hopes of outrunning their pursuers and retaining custody of David.


Early reception for the book was positive, with Tim Adams of The Observer believing it to be "an early contender for an unprecedented third Booker prize".[3] The Australian also praised The Childhood of Jesus, stating that it was "a masterpiece".[4]

Theo Tait, writing in The Guardian, said that The Childhood of Jesus was "richly enigmatic, with regular flashes of Coetzee's piercing intelligence" and compared the book to the rest of what he termed Coetzee's "admirable but forbidding canon". Tait wrote, "Personally, I would put The Childhood of Jesus some distance behind his conspicuous masterpieces, such as Life & Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, and also behind the wonderful autobiographical trilogy that ended with Summertime". Nevertheless, said Tait, The Childhood of Jesus "probably belongs in the strange-but-interesting section, with his Crusoe story Foe and Elizabeth Costello.[5]

Upon its U.S. publication, David Ulin, the Los Angeles Times book critic, said it "ultimately falls prey to the emptiness it describes. Partly, this has to do with its meandering quality; in a land without history, even those who seek not to forget must lose sight of the past. But even more, the issue is the distance in Coetzee's writing, the feeling that his characters are less living flesh-and-blood than signifiers of some idea. When his novels are working (as in Life and Times of Michael K. or the magnificent Waiting for the Barbarians), 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, "looking for somewhere to stay".[6]


  1. ^ Adams, Tim (30 December 2012). "Fiction for spring – preview". London: Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Amazon Unveils Book Blurb for JM Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus". Books Live. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Tim Adams Looks Forward to the Release of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and JM Coetzee's New Novels". Books Live. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  4. ^ "High five of holiday reading". The Australian. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  5. ^ Tait, Theo (27 February 2013). "Coetzee explores visions of a Buddhist utopia and a Kafkaesque retelling of the nativity story with compelling and puzzling results". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  6. ^ Ulin, David L. (September 5, 2013). "J.M. Coetzee's 'The Childhood of Jesus' is a land without memory". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-12-15.