Coetzee, J.M. "The Childhood of Jesus"


Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

I don't really know what to say about this book. It is so strange. A man and a boy arrive in a new country. We are supposed to believe, I think, that they are refugees abut we have no idea from where they come and where they went, only that they had to cross an ocean. They could have gone from Africa to South America, Asia to Australia, North America to Europe or any combination thereof. The only continent I wouldn't suspect is Antarctica though it could be after climate change has taken place and they start settling people there.

That doesn't really matter. I'm not even sure whether this is supposed to be a dystopian novel or not, though I will call it that. Everyone in this country starts with a clean slate, they are given a new name, their past is forgotten. Sounds more like a utopian tale at the beginning, however, it's not. Life couldn't be made more difficult for new arrivals.

I have come to really dislike the boy and that is something I don't really like. I remember a member of our book club mention that she hated books where the children are so awful that one can only dislike them. I doubt she would have liked this book.

As to the title, I have no idea what the title has to do with the novel. There are biblical allusions but without the name "Jesus", it might as well have been coincidences.

Somewhere on the internet I read someone recommending "Disgrace" and "Life of Times of Michael K." and avoid this one. I wish I had read that before starting this novel. I did enjoy "Disgrace" a lot more than this one.

From the back cover:

"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."

J.M. Coetzee "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider" received the Nobel Prize in 2003.

Read my other reviews of the Nobel Prize winners for Literature.  

Original Post on "Let's Read".

Jelinek, Elfriede "The Piano Teacher"

(German title: Die Klavierspielerin) - 1988

Reviewed by Marianne
from Let's Read

Elfriede Jelinek received the Nobel Prize for her "musical flow of voices .... "Granted, her language is extraordinary, I loved the way she describes thoughts, actions, objects.

This is a novel about a musician, her mother, her love life. The main subject of the novel is definitely the mother-daughter relationship. I only read afterwards that the novel has a very autobiographic background. I try to read as little about the background of a piece as possible, as often they give away the end and the whole joy of reading the book personally. I think this was good in this case.

I could have strangled the mother, for example, how you can imprison a child in your life, unbelievable. I didn't care much for the sexual desires of the piano player, her voyeuristic and masochistic escapades which turned the book into a bad pornographic piece, at least that's what I imagine bad pornographic pieces to be like, don't have a lot of experience with that kind of literature.

I love reading Nobel prize winners' novels, they usually are chosen for a good reason. Most of them, I couldn't wait to read the next piece. Will I want to read another book by Elfriede Jelinek? Probably not.

And don't forget, I read the original, no translator messed up my perception.

From the back cover:

"Erika Kohut teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory by day. But by night she trawls the porn shows of Vienna while her mother, whom she loves and hates in equal measure, waits up for her.

Into this emotional pressure-cooker bounds music student and ladies' man, Walter Klemmer. With Walter as her student, Erika spirals out of control, consumed by the ecstasy of self-destruction.

First published in 1983,
The Piano Teacher is the masterpiece of Elfriede Jelinek, Austria's most famous writer. Now a feature film directed by Michael Haneke, The Piano Teacher won three major prizes at the Cannes 2001 Festival including best actor for Benoit Magimel and best actress for Isabelle Huppert."

Elfriede Jelinek received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Original Post on "Let's Read". 

The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsun

 Originally reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

When fate strikes badly and turns life completely upside down thwarting all plans, it’s usually a very unsettling experience that can make feel at a loss even the most flexible mind. Some people quickly pull themselves together and take life back into their own hands trying to make the best of the situation, while others give in to despair and just drift on with the current unwilling to set a new course because it just doesn’t seem worthwhile or at least possible. The protagonist of The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsum, the recipient of the 1920 Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the latter. Having lost one leg in an accident aboard a cargo steamer and unfit to work as a sailor again, Oliver Andersen takes to brooding and idling away his time. Not even for the sake of his growing family, he is able to change.

Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke

Originally reviewed by Edith LaGraziana

To come to terms with important events in life, notably with big changes, usually takes time even if they don’t turn upside-down the entire universe that we have known. Sometimes they can leave us at a complete loss because they put into question who we are and force us to re-evaluate our whole being to piece together a new identity. In the novella Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke a young Austrian writer has fled to the USA to recover his peace of mind after the end of his marriage to Judith. Years of life together had turned them into opponents seething with hatred to the point of trying to kill each other more than once, and yet, his fear of his ex-wife mixes with the urge to go after her. As a result, he zigzags across the country as much in flight from as in pursuit of Judith...

Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Carinthia, Austria, in December 1942. As from 1961 he studied law at Graz University and published first short stories in the literary journal manuskripte. After a prominent German publishing house had accepted to bring out his first novel The Hornets (Die Hornissen: 1966), he abandoned his studies and devoted himself entirely to writing. He produced successful, often highly controversial plays (including screenplays and radio dramas), stories, essays, journals, travelogues, and poems along with novels like for instance The Peddler (Der Hausierer: 1967), The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter: 1970), A Sorrow Beyond Dream (Wunschloses Unglück: 1972), Short Letter, Long Farewell (Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied: 1972), The Left-Handed Woman (Die linkshändige Frau: 1978), On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House (In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus: 1997), Don Juan (2004), or most recently, Die Obstdiebin (2017; tr. The Fruit Thief). In 2019, the Swedish Academy awarded the prolific author the Nobel Prize in Literature “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”. Peter Handke lives in Chaville near Paris, France.

Late in April 1971, not much before his thirtieth birthday, an unnamed Austrian writer arrives in Providence, Rhode Island, not anticipating that the message left by his ex-wife Judith means Short Letter, Long Farewell. The two didn’t separate on good terms, and yet, she followed him to the USA. At her hotel in New York they tell him that she already left, but he travels there nonetheless and stays for several days. Then he heads for Phoenixville west of Philadelphia to join his former lover Claire who invited him to accompany her and her little daughter to St. Louis. After nearly three days in the car and two nights in roadside motels, where they revived their fleeting affair, they arrive in Rock Hill. They pass quiet days together until he receives a printed birthday card from Judith with the word “last” inserted by hand and the blurred Polaroid of a loaded revolver glued to it. A few days later, he also gets a parcel from her, but he needs rubber gloves to unpack it because around the box she wound thin wire connected to a battery that gives nasty little electric shocks. Soon after, he leaves for Tuscon, Arizona, where he visits the missionary station Saint Xavier del Bac on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. On his way back to the hotel, a gang of youths robs him. With the little money that he has left, he manages to get to Portland, Oregon, and on to Escada in the mountains where his brother works in a sawmill. Having seen him from afar, he returns to the motel and finds a postcard of Twin Rocks at the Pacific Ocean waiting for him. It’s Judith’s wordless invitation to join him there and he scrapes together all his loose change to go…

Superficially, the novella Short Letter, Long Farewell just shows a first-person narrator who zigzags from the American East to the West Coast casually observing on the way country and people, but more importantly, it’s the character study of a man digesting the end of a toxic marriage that left him alone and at a loss. Even he can’t tell if he is fleeing from his ex-wife or if, in fact, he is pursuing her. At any rate, he is “going west” both in a literal and in a figurative sense hoping to find himself in the unknown lands beyond the horizon or within his soul. The narrator’s special taste for the films of John Ford, notably his westerns, mirrors his quest of identity just as much as the book that he picked for his tour, namely the nineteenth-century Swiss classic Green Heinrich by Gottfried Keller. Apart from the travelling, the novella doesn’t offer much of a plot, nor are the descriptions of country and people particularly impressive. The focus is mostly on self-reflection and contemplation, and yet, the narrator (who is a barely concealed alter ego of the author) never really comes to life. The book is well written, though.

Before the novella Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke I had already read – ages ago – this Austrian author’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, a biographical work dealing with his mother’s hard life and eventual suicide. Now I picked fiction hoping that it would give me a taste for the writings of my much-celebrated compatriot, but it didn’t. Occasionally, the story dragged a little, and yet, it was a nice read overall even though I really can’t see what made and makes literary critics praise it so much. I dislike most about it (and about many critically acclaimed books by German-language writers these days) that it feels like what I call a “literary selfie” notwithstanding that it’s fiction really. Like Gustave Flaubert I don’t want to “see” the author’s person between the lines of her/his book. Despite my reservations, I recommend this Austrian novella touring the USA of the early 1970s.

Having been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times according to rumours, the Swedish Academy finally awarded it to Peter Handke in 2019.

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

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