The Childhood of Jesus

The Childhood of Jesus

J.M. Coetzee

First Sentence:     The man at the gate points them towards a low, sprawling building in the middle distance.

Back of the book:

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.

Quote from the book:

Everything flows. Did you forget that when you crossed the ocean to come here? The waters of the ocean flow and in flowing they change. You cannot step twice into the same waters. As the fish live in the sea, so we live in time and must change with time.

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In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut

First Sentence: It happens like this.

This novel is split into three parts and follows Damon as he travels to various different countries, meeting different people in each one. The narration keeps changing from first person, to second person, to third person; something that would be incredibly confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but here, Galgut makes it seem effortless. This book is bursting with potential romances; Damon and Reiner in part one, Damon and Jerome in part two, but somehow he never fully engages in one:

The story of Jerome is one he’s lived through before, it is the story of what never happened, the story of travelling a long way while standing still.

This book deals primarily with travel and human relationships, and how travel affects them, in a heartbreaking way. It is full of longing, with several insights into the philosophy of travelling:

A journey is a gesture inscribed in space, it vanishes even as it’s made.

I really enjoyed this book, in particular the final part where Damon travels to Goa with Anna, a good friend who is intent on killing herself. The prose is simple, yet incredibly affecting. A book which may not take a long time to read, but will remain in the back of your mind for a long time afterwards.

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