Nobel Prize–winning author Coetzee concludes the biblically tinged trilogy he began with The Childhood of Jesus in 2013.
The title gives it all away, though it’s not the familiar Jesus who dies. Instead, it’s Coetzee’s protagonist, David, now 10 years old. Readers of the predecessor volumes will recall that he’s a foundling, although his adoptive father and mother, in their roles more or less by accident, aren’t quite sure what to do with him. David is a handful, committed to reading only one book, a child’s version of Don Quixote. Simón, the father, recalls that he borrowed the book from a library in Novilla, a city in an unnamed but presumably Latin American country, and “instead of returning it to the library as a good citizen would have done, David kept it for himself.” It becomes the willful boy’s lodestone. Meanwhile, he decides that, since he’s an orphan, he ought to live in an orphanage—and one just happens to be handy, one whose director is recruiting a soccer team. David is a natural standout at the game, and he becomes the ringleader of a crew of—well, disciples, to whom he imparts a message that none will reveal when he sickens, the victim of a mysterious ailment, and dies. Figures from those predecessor volumes turn up, including Simón’s bête noire, Dmitri, who knows David’s thoughts as well as anyone; another character named Alyosha provides a second allusion to The Brothers Karamazov, though most of the characters bear names straight out of the Bible. As for David’s mother, Inés, the death of her son is enough to drive her away, “leaving the man alone in a strange city, mourning his losses.” Coetzee’s tone is flat and matter-of-fact throughout, and the book feels slightly underdone, with several unanswered questions—the most central of them that message, at which we can only guess.
For Coetzee completists, though not up to masterworks like Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K.