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Latest Review: "Desert" by J.M.G. Le Clézio

The latest addition to our Review Section is a piece on Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio’s Desert, translated from the French by C. Dickson and published by David R. Godine as part of the amazing Verba Mundi series.

Timothy Nassau, an intern here last summer and current student at Brown, wrote this review. Tim’s a really sharp reader, and has reviewed and written for us in the past.

Desert made the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist, and we will be featuring this next week in our one-a-day series. Tim seems to have some mixed feelings about this novel, but he does make it sound really interesting:

The lack of any article in the title should immediately tip off the reader: Desert is not about a particular desert, such as the Sahara, or even the desert, that great thirsty body that covers the world in sandy blotches and makes travelers conflate Perrier with Dom Pérignon. Both are certainly integral to the novel, but the desert here is more than a geographical place, more than some combination of climatic conditions and topographical features. For Le Clézio, it is spiritual, the embodiment of a way of life and a means of interacting with the world that comes from the meeting place of a harsh landscape and a resilient human will. The analogy may be silly, but I am reminded of a post-colonial version of the Force from Star Wars—Desert as intangible power that liberates man from the constraints of time, space, and, more specifically, from the destructive powers that the French unleashed in Africa early last century, a destruction that the author traces through its modern iterations.

Desert chronicles the story of a young man and woman, separated by time and space, but unified by a common ancestry and the ubiquitous Desert they inhabit. The two plots are told intermittently throughout the book, but we begin with Nour, a young member of desert warriors known as “the blue men.” Forced to migrate by the steady encroachment of the “Christians,” Nour and his tribe, along with dozens more, move northward through the desert in a brutal and futile search for new lands. Decades later, in an unspecified part of Morocco, Lalla, a late descendant of the blue men, makes a similar journey. Less historical and thus more personal, in these sections we follow Lalla’s life in a shantytown called the Project. To avoid an arranged marriage, she becomes an immigrant in Marseilles where work and happiness are often hard to come by. So as Nour flees from the French, Lalla runs to them, yet both refuse to be conquered by circumstance: Nour joins the hopeless final stand of his people, while Lalla finally finds success as a model.

Click here to read the full review.



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