The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Childhood of JesusFirst Impressions
With deliberate sparseness, Coetzee concocts a dreamlike tale of a ridiculous mission in The Childhood of JesusSimón and David are newcomers to a vaguely socialist country where no one can recall their original birthdate, age or name.  They are issued new ones, along with free food, lodging, clothing and healthcare, although Simón soon tires of the bean paste and dry bread that passes as everyday fare.  To pass the time and buy a few luxuries Simón finds work as a stevedore, despite his lack of physical prowess.  No one else seems to remember or miss any trappings of private commerce, religion, desire, ambition or humor, increasing Simón’s frustrated attempts to navigate the society around him.

Drive-By Summary
The Childhood of Jesusis a dystopian novel…or is it?  Set in no particular time or place, the middle-aged Simón meets a young boy named David, and sets about trying to reunite him with his mother.  Both are without their memories, as are all citizens in the new country they now reside in.  Everyone amiably conforms to standards of bland acceptance, despite no threat of any rebels being punished by their benign and benevolent government, and the pair struggle to adapt to this bizarre, subdued world.  Can Simón locate David’s mother without any real memories or knowledge of her?

My Favorite Character
Simón is plagued by curiosity and yearning, but also a strange sort of passivity; making him a fascinating and contradictory character.

Words to Live By
Alvaro does not trade in irony.  Nor does Elena.  Elena is an intelligent woman but she does not see any doubleness in the world, any difference between the way things seem and the way things are.  An intelligent woman and an admirable woman too, who out of the most exiguous of materials – seamstressing, music lessons, household chores – has put together a new life, a life from which she claims – with justice? – that nothing is missing.  It is the same with Alvaro and the stevedores:  they have no secret yearnings he can detect, no hankerings after another kind of life.  Only he is the exception, the dissatisfied one, the misfit.  What is wrong with him?  Is it, as Elena says, just the old way of thinking and feeling that has not yet died in him, but kicks and shudders in its last throes?

Recommended For
Fans of Beckett, Don Quixote, and quiet contemplation on family, enlightenment and desire.

Final Say
The Childhood of Jesus is a quietly unsettling and muted read, where the absence of Coetzee’s usual rich lyricism acts as a relief picture, revealing starkly contrasting themes through his postmodern prose.  Peaks of emotional intensity are curiously built around Coetzee’s own passions for sports and animal rights.  However, the author leaves much to ponder:  Is David the child Jesus, and Simón Joseph?  Is this a fable, farce, or lecture that Coetzee is delivering?  This is a paradoxical and challenging book that will engage you long after you have finished reading it.

You can find The Childhood of Jesus at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle Book CoverFirst Impressions
Enticing and progressive, the world of The Circle easily swept me up with its expansive setting and exploration of ideas.  Despite not having a lot of character development, I was pretty enamored of this book, and it is only fitting that I then review it online.

Drive-By Summary
Mae Holland is a young college graduate hired to work for the Circle – an elite, modern technology company intent on expanding their empire to consolidate all social media, finance and browser services.  Eager to please, Mae takes on increasing responsibilities ranging from training other employees to sending out a minimum quota of “Zings” – akin to broadcasting her every action via Facebook or Twitter.

When The Circle launches SeeChange, a groundbreaking personal security and surveillance service, it is adopted rapidly and without question – but at what point does the guarantee of security become worth the total sacrifice of privacy?

My Favorite Character
My favorite character is Eamon Bailey, one of the Three Wise Men who make up the Circle’s leadership team.  As the benevolent and smiling “human face” of the Circle, Eamon has an unwavering faith that their technological innovations will cure disease, oust corrupt politicians and put an end to child abductions.  A champion of transparency and information sharing,  Eamon personifies the notion that the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Words to Live By
““Okay.  So your second screen will continue to be the way you’ll stay in touch with your team.  That will be exclusively for Customer Experience [sic] business.  Your third screen is for your social participation, in the company Circle and your wider Circle.  Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

Mae watched Gina activate the screen, and felt a thrill.  She’d never had such an elaborate arrangement before.  Three screens for someone so low on the ladder!  Only at the Circle. ”

Recommended For
If you’ve ever wondered if you should curb your online presence, are interested in start-up culture, human connection and communication, or dystopian futures, read this book.  You will find this fast paced novel fascinating, even if it veers toward absurdist extremes.

Final Say
If you find your interest in internet culture and technology piqued, you may also want to check out a copy of The Boy Kings by Katherine Losse.  Published last year, The Boy Kings details Losse’s account of being hired as Facebook employee #51, and her experiences working for customer service in both a rapidly booming and male dominated workplace.

The Circle experienced some initial controversy as Losse accused Eggers of lifting parts of his new novel from her non-fictional work, but this was soon dampened by Eggers’ retort that he had not even heard of The Boy Kings, let alone read or stolen from it – a different kind of zing!  Eggers avoided touring any internet or tech companies or interviewing any of their employees while writing his novel, so I would recommend reading these in tandem.

The Circle is waiting for you at the Bellingham Public Library.

— Nicky