Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: The Childhood of Jesus

The Childhood of Jesus
The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although I've read a few of JM Coetzee's novels in the past and I've always enjoyed the strong stories and characters, I've never enjoyed one his novels as much as this one. In fact, I would rank it right up there with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I have used in the past in leading philosophy seminars.

The novel begins when two immigrants, Simon, an older man and David, a five-year old boy, arrive in a Spanish-speaking country. Neither are very familiar with the language. Simon is not the boy's father, he is not related to David. When the information letter explaining who David's parents are gets lost at sea, Simon becomes the boy's charge and makes a commitment to find the boy's mother in the new country.

The two face many frustrations and hardships in this odd, new world. Through it all, Simon manages find them a place to stay and he gets himself a job working as a stevedore, unloading boats by hand with a group of well-meaning men. David is still too young to attend school, so he hangs out at the docks, where he learns to play chess with the supervisor.

David and Simon are not their real names. These are the names the two are given at the processing center. There, they are encouraged to forget their past, their language, their history. This is a new world, and they are not to dwell on memories. Their official papers state approximate ages (based on appearances) and the two are assigned the same birthday - the day they stepped off the boat.

I enjoyed Coetzee's ability to convey the sense of displacement and alienation that immigrants feel, that sense of other-wordliness that Simon experiences as he finds everyone friendly enough, but realizes that they all think in a completely different (logical) way, their thoughts based mainly on the appearance of things.

As Simon tries to find his place in this foreign land, he begins to voice his philosophical questions aloud and his companions on the docks are more than happy to engage him in these debates. The topics include existential questions such as the meaning of a man's life, where it is to be found in work, play, or at rest, all within the context of the appearances versus reality.

David, meanwhile faces his own issues, when Simon eventually discovers the boy's natural mother. Soon, David must begin school, where his ability to conform to the class is tested. He struggles to read, to write, and to do basic math, due to "philosophic issues with numbers" as Simon points out.

The Childhood of Jesus is a truly interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking novel which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys entertaining different ideas about the world and their life.


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Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Joyland

Joyland by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Joyland, since it reminded me of every other Stephen King novel I've ever read. There's plenty of nostalgia, and a carnival, to boot!

Joyland has fun characters who speak The Talk (carnival lingo), a good plot, three friends, lots of love and death. And a boy in a wheelchair. Sound familiar?

If you enjoy Stephen King novels you'll enjoy this one too. I did.


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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Review: Manuscript Found in Accra

Manuscript Found in Accra
Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wasn't a fan of this novel.

This link to John Crace's comical review of Manuscript for The Guardian expresses my thoughts a million times better than I could ever write.


But seriously, I have a problem with Manuscript's content. As I read through the different topics presented, I was never sure if Coelho was showing the reader that New Age philosophy grew out of Biblical teachings, or if Biblical teachings were, when it came right down to it, New Age. This is an important distinction, but ultimately either interpretation places Coelho in the wrong.

Of course, since Coelho uses a Coptic narrator, he could always discard such criticisms by claiming that neither of the positions I attribute to him are his own views, he is merely presenting the narrator's (a Coptic wise man) thoughts on such topics. But given that Coelho is the author, the criticism still comes back to him.

Either way, I had a very strong, uncomfortable feeling that my morality, sense of religious history, and Biblical knowledge was being put to the test in reading this book.

I suppose that if I don't like New Age fiction, I should stop reading Coelho. I just wish he would stop trying (seeming to try?) to ground his New Age philosophy on universal themes found in the Bible.

Either New Ageism will stand on its own, or it will fail due to it's own internal inconsistencies. But to drag biblical subjects into an extraneous discussion of morals, simply because Coelho disagrees with certain religious doctrine, is intentionally misleading, and as such is considered scandalous.

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