The Schooldays of Jesus
Text Publishing, $34.99 hb, 288 pp, 9781925355789
In order to grasp the complexity of allusions in J.M. Coetzee's new novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, you need to have your wits about you. On the other hand, as with its prequel, The Childhood of Jesus (2013), the novel may also be read fairly simply, as a fable. As a sequel to the first 'Jesus' novel, it progresses the story of Simón, Inés, and David, the 'holy family,' as they continue their journey, with their dog Bolívar, from the town named Novilla to a new town, Estrella, meaning 'star' in Spanish, in an unspecified Spanish-speaking country.
As in the earlier novel, there is no character called Jesus; only teasing biblical references that provide an allegorical substratum to the fable-like surface story and that, along with the novel's title, tempt the reader into equating David with Jesus. So Simón is not his real father, but has taken him under his wing as a kind of 'godfather'; Inés is not his real mother, but has been chosen by Simón to act as David's mother. In The Schooldays of Jesus, when David is asked whose son he is, he replies: 'Nobody's.' Later he declares, 'I wanted to be a lifesaver but they wouldn't let me.' Simón can't tell David for sure if he was born 'out of Inés's tummy', as memories and past experiences have been wiped clean in the process of starting their new lives. 'Unable to remember, all you can do, all she can do, all any of us can do is to make up stories,' is Simón's response to David's question about his birth.