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Desert (book review) J.M.G. Le Clézio

C. Dickson (Translator)

if you like this review, i now have website:

211120: decided to read this again, decided now it is closer to five than four. i am feeling generous. i still prefer [book:The Prospector|5950122] and [book:Wandering Star|887401] of le clezio's work of which and about which i have read 18. so i like him a lot. he writes about the ignored, the marginal, the non-first world, peoples and worlds and history. in translation he writes fluidly, descriptively, is almost object case of the 'show do not tell' storytelling mode. the parallel narratives of arabic peoples facing colonial (french) decimation and descendant girl whose adventures as refugee do not necessarily connect directly but thematically...

it is possibly written of its time (1980) in its unflinching, unironic (earnest ok), appraisal of modernity, and all the beauty it leaves behind, as is clearest when one character leaves the 'happiness' of her shanty town for the 'life among slaves' in marseille, descriptive density that makes both environments lived-in. there have been some comments finding le clezio less than model Nobel winner, but i enjoy his approach to major themes through personal story entwined with history: religious piety, colonial cynicism, ethnic cleansing, versus the personal story of journey of awakening, from girlhood innocence through illusions of image-making that can never be more than 'lies'...

having read [book:The Prospector|5950122], i had some idea of what he writes like, but whereas that is more individual story this is of an entire peoples, in historical context, and individual in contemporary (late 1970s). i am glad he won the Nobel, or i would probably not have read him. i have yet to read a philip roth that has 'worked' as well for me. so this one makes me think of all those authors not read because they are not in our major first world reading communities. the best le clezio criticism i have read is [book:J.M.G. Le Clezio: Le nomade immobile|2231831]....

having read this twice but only in translation, i do not know if i can truly appreciate the language, but it feels it must originally be excellent, if only that sensory portraits of everything from desert dunes to wash house to shipboard and immigration to garbage in dockside water all are very clear and distinct. that the city is not what she dreams from tales of an old fisherman, that poverty, violence, sadness, rule lives among the slaves, that the only escape is through liars appropriating her image... renders this dark fairytale that she can only walk away from...

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