J.M. Coetzee – The Schooldays of Jesus

Review, Novel, Man Booker Prize Longlist
Simón, Inés and Davíd had to flee and now come to Estrella where they hide among fruit pickers. Quickly it becomes obvious that Davíd is not an ordinary child, he asks a lot of questions and at the same time his view of the world cannot really be understood. When he is enrolled in the Academy of Dance – public schools are no option for obvious reasons – he feels comfortable and at home. The school’s strange philosophy seems to give him everything he needs and dancing becomes a new passion for him. For Simón and Inés this is difficult to understand and with the child’s gradual alienation they also find it more and more difficult to agree with each other.
J.M. Coetzee’s novel was nominated on the 2016 longlist for the Man Booker Prize. Normally, this is an indicator for me to read and book and I was never disappointed. However, this time the novel really had me despaired. First of all, I could hardly orientate in the novel. Where are we? And when? At least approximately. As I figured out in the meantime, there is another novel by Coetzee called “Childhood of Jesus” which might give some explanation to that. Second, most of the book is about the academy’s philosophy – and this was completely lost to me. Even more than to the protagonist Simón who also does not understand the least of what the teachers try to explain. Thirdly, which is closely linked to my first point, the family relationships were all but clear to me, this might be due to the fact that there is a first book in the series that I was not aware of.
Leaving aside the unease while reading, what does this text qualify for the Man Booker Prize nomination? It raises some questions which are definitely worth asking: who am I? What defines me? Which role do the family and the surrounding play in constructing me? Additionally, we have complex inner and out of family relationships which develop, intensify and loosen in the course of the story. The way especially Simón and Davíd not only interact but also react and define themselves through the other are quite interesting to observe.

All in all, I guess a lot of the story was lost to me. Unfortunately, there was too much I was wondering about to really enjoy it.