An astonishing new masterpiece from the Nobel and twice Booker Prize-winning author of Disgrace and Summertime
After crossing oceans, a man and a boy – both strangers to each other – arrive in a new land. David, the boy, has lost his mother and Simón vows to look after him. In this strange new country they are assigned a new name, a new birthday, a new life.Knowing nothing of their surroundings, nor the language or customs, they are determined to find David’s mother. Though the boy has no memory of her, Simón is certain he will recognize her at first sight. “But after we find her,” David asks, “what are we here for?”
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This is a story which almost defies description. I got to the end and wasn't sure how I felt about it or, indeed, what had actually been the point of it. The story seemed unfinsihed almost as if the author had set out to write a novel with a sequel already in mind. Personally, I always find this kind of approach very exasperating. It read as a bizarre mixture of myth, fable, allegory and fantasy but it had a pared-down, elegant style which was very appealing.
Having thought about the book for a couple of weeks (and it certainly lingered in my mind) I have reached the conclusion that the story possibly was in some way a version of the story of Jesus, told in a very loose way. I am imagining that Coetzee has used the absence of information about Jesus' life from babyhood until age 13 when he reappears in the Temple as an opportunity to construct a tale of 'what if'.
An older man (Simon) and a young boy (David) arrive as refugees in a Spanish- speaking colony having escaped from a troubled country. Along the way knowledge of David's mother's wheraeabouts in the new colony have been lost; a letter giving details of his parents has been mislaid and Simon agrees to take on the boy and find his mother. He believes that intuition will guide him to identify the correct woman, and so the story starts.
The remainder of the story covers how the pair come to find a home, friends, work and a woman who Simon rather rashly chooses for David's mother. The story ends with the three main characters escaping from the colony after a brush with the authorities over David's education and setting off on a road trip to find a better place of shelter.
The boy David is both engaging and puzzling. He shows signs of brilliance and somewhat miraculous behaviour at times; elsewhere in the story he is less appealing, difficult and ungrateful. Simon is both naive and idealistic, but practicalities eventually overcome hisbasic nature and he forms an enduring, supportive relationship with the boy. David attracts oddballs and hangers-on and his relationship with his new mother is fraught with difficulty.
There is indeed a sequel, I have discovered and I enjoyed the book enough to follow it up. But if you like books to be clear-cut and explanatory, this is probably not a story for you. if you fancy trying something challenging, then give this a go.