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“Political Vs. Religious Faith”

Yay! My Coetzee review came out this Sunday, and I missed it. I have apparently lost the arcane

skill of finding the news in an actual paper–I didn’t see it in Sunday’s Inquirer!! Thank you, Inky, and fab editor John Timpane.

Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, I'm inscrutable. Get over it.

Yes, I’m inscrutable. Get over it.

In The Childhood of Jesus, his 12th novel, J.M. Coetzee presents a moral challenge to the West: Given the tension between faith and politics, we who equate faith with “extremism” should take a good, hard look in the mirror.

It’s a subtle tale about a hot-button topic: faith in a political system versus an essentially religious faith. The novel opens with the arrival of a man and a 5-year-old boy on the shores of Novilla, a placid, “bloodless” utopia where the inhabitants, all former refugees, have been “washed clean” of memories of their former lives..

Click here for full review

Joyce Carol Oates wrote about the book at greater length in the New York Times Book Review. You gotta admire her. Of all the ridiculously smart people who wrote reviews, she was the only one to admit she didn’t really get what Coetzee was doing:

For a while I speculated that “The Childhood of Jesus” might be a novel of ideas in which the stillness of the Buddhist vision of enlightenment and the striving of Christian salvation are contrasted: the one essentially cyclical, the other “progressive.'”

Now that I look again at my own review, I want to change it: Well, but the characters who (apparently) represented religion WERE fanatical and extreme in their handling of the boy. Oh, well. It’s published. Can I be anything but happy about that?

Read any interesting book reviews lately? Anyone else find the NYTBR as entertaining as I do?

10 Comments to

““Political Vs. Religious Faith””

  1. September 10th, 2013 at 8:56 pm Claire 'Word by Word' Says:

    I think the review is like a snapshot of our thoughts at a moment in time, we then go on to have other discussions, read other reviews and sometimes something just clicks many days later. I guess that’s why comments can be so interesting, they add continual layers to the thought process and discussion.

    Interesting that Colm Toibin and Coetzee are both writing novels about Jesus at a similar time. That reminds me of the year Toibin and David Lodge both published novels about Henry James. David Lodge was so preoccupied with the coincidence, he then wrote a book called, The Year of Henry James.


  2. September 12th, 2013 at 11:19 am Helen W. Mallon Says:

    Yes, Claire, I noted the coincidence too! THe books were assigned by my editor–Maybe I should pitch myself as “the reviewer of secular books having to do with Jesus.”

    well put that a review is like a snapshot. I might well write a very different review if I were to start over now.


  3. September 11th, 2013 at 4:17 am Jane Says:

    Nicely written review, Helen, so glad you are getting some press! This is the kind of book that would take me forever to finish – three pages ahead, two pages back (to try and understand what the heck is going on)! Your review serves the purpose of piquing my curiosity. Kudos!


  4. September 12th, 2013 at 11:26 am Helen W. Mallon Says:

    Jane, thanks for visiting again! The interesting thing about Coetzee is that his story telling is as simple as can be. Following the story is a breeze–but the whole time, you’re like, what the efff??? I’m happy to lend you the book if you like. Another one for the pile!


  5. September 11th, 2013 at 10:43 am Melissa Says:

    I have only read one or two of Coetzee’s books and he is quite allegorical – to the point where it is sometimes difficult to see what exactly he is trying to get at.

    Perhaps he is being too clever for his own good?

    I’ll definitely put this book on my To-Read list! Thanks for sharing!


  6. September 12th, 2013 at 11:16 am Helen W. Mallon Says:

    Melissa, Thanks for visiting and reading the review! This book is indeed, an allegory…I had a slightly different take on it in my review–I think my narrative/character development bias shows through. I found that the story pointed to a conclusion. Did Coetzee intend that? He’s not telling…


  7. September 11th, 2013 at 1:32 pm Quanie Miller Says:

    Congrats, Helen! You should definitely be happy that it’s published. Happy for you!


  8. September 12th, 2013 at 11:21 am Helen W. Mallon Says:

    Quanie, Thank you so much! I’m very grateful to be able to do book reviews. I’d love to write more of them (oh, and also get paid…. 🙂


  9. September 11th, 2013 at 5:14 pm Deborah Brasket Says:

    Great Review, Helen. Sounds like an interesting novel in which nothing is resolved. Is there any sense if any of the characters represent Jesus? I wonder why he named it that. I’ll have to read Oates review, although from what you say, she is left mystified by the story too.


  10. September 12th, 2013 at 11:25 am Helen W. Mallon Says:

    Deborah, Very kind of you to visit and comment! In my reading of the book, the boy David represented Jesus, and I was pretty horrified by how his “parents” treated him. I kept thinking, “this kid is going to turn out to be a psycho.” None of the other reviewers I read seemed to have that take on it. I worried that I looked dumb or something, but then figured, Hey, it’s not like Coetzee makes it EASY for anyone to understand his books. ….


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