‘The Schooldays of Jesus’: Coetzee’s Teasing New Parable

Jack Miles in the New York Times:

26MIles-master180In the Myth of Er, told or retold by Socrates at the end of Plato’s “Republic,” we learn that after death souls are reincarnated only after crossing Lethe, the River of Oblivion. In his 2013 novel “The Childhood of Jesus” and now in its sequel, “The Schooldays of Jesus,” J.M. Coetzee has written a pair of stylistically realistic novels with, however, a Lethe premise more at home in myth. Everyone in the Spanish-speaking country where these novels are set has arrived by ship, and the voyage has washed every immigrant’s memory clean of all recollection of a previous life. Page by page, the larger portion of both novels is taken up by quasi-Platonic dialogues that struggle back toward a-Lethe-ia — Greek for “truth,” a truth left behind on the far side of Lethe. But, by a brilliant turn, the central symposiasts are Simón, a man in his 40s, and Davíd, a boy who is 5 as “Childhood” opens and 7 as “Schooldays” ends.

The brilliance of this turn is that it allows Coetzee to create a kind of fusion genre blending the energy of philosophical dialogue, the warmth and unprogrammed humor of father-son repartee, the emotional potency of a family romance and finally the uncanny suggestion of allegory (womb as ship, birth as disembarkation). The result is rich, dense, often amusing and, above all, full of inner tension and suspense.

More here.