Spanish speaking: there is the further coincidence of the recent publication of the latest “Australian Novel” by JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill Secker, 2013). It is a late style work, but unlike the Edward Said critical model of either pragmatic or revolutionary unresolved contradictions, it appears to travel across an altogether different continental (Australian… Or Argentinian) space and rhetoric – “almost Buddhist” according to one reviewer.
The book describes a journey to a new world where everyone is required to speak Spanish and those who arrive are all exiles “washed clean of all memories”. They live in a city called Novilla (a Buenos Aires mix Nuevo and Nowhere). David, a young boy, is one such new arrival. He is taken in as an orphan and begins to display extraordinary, one might say non-human or divine, gifts.
But in the city of Novilla whose inhabitants are wiped clean of all memories, so that there is no record of Jesus Christ, no knowledge of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and indeed no history at all, David’s behaviour is considered to be freakish. Fitting neither developmental model of either pragmatic or revolutionary progress, he is sent to a school for children with special educational needs (children in the autistic spectrum and so on). There Coetzee writes, “He searches for the irony but there is none, as there is no salt”.
One reviewer, noting Coetzee’s equation between the lack of irony and salt, finds the book too bland and flat, like travelling endlessly across a colourless and empty landscape towards an endlessly receding horizon. Like Pampas.