When the Nobel prize was attributed to J.M.G Le Clézio in 2008 he was described as “an author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization“. No better description exists of the work of this great writer whose stunningly poetic prose is put to use to narrate the story of the often ignored. In many ways, Le Clézio assumed the role of reminding French speakers of the existence of other civilizations and their stories, to break them out of their cocoons and make them confront other realities.

Le Clézio is a powerful describer of landscapes and an acute observer of human behavior. He is exhilarated by the beauty of the small and magnifies its splendor to his readers. Often, he would return to describe the same thing, but in new and magnificent ways that the reader feels like she is encountering the land or the people for the first time, with new eyes. In his iconic novel- Désert, the desert and all its elements- physical and spiritual -become an essential part of the plot itself, slowly developing it and enveloping it.

The plot of the novel consists of two distinct parts: the last years of the first decade of the 20th century, when a group of desert warriors, meet to discuss and develop a strategy for survival, in the middle of a war, while the other part revolves around a young adolescent girl, in a story that takes place several decades later. This girl, called Lalla, believes firmly in the myth of the desert. Lalla is enamored by her culture. Nostalgia for her life in the dunes refuses to leave her even when she has moved to Marseille to start a new one. She continues to look south, towards her home and the people who influenced her.

The desert, in planet Le Clézio, who spent his childhood in Africa, is a magical and mysterious place in which life unrolls itself with no hurry. To live in a desert is to know that life itself is strongly rooted in the landscape, or in one of the faces that the every shifting dunes present. The narrative style also follows this rhythm. A gentle lyricism infuses every page, that captivates the reader. But that never lets Le Clézio move away from the truths that he wants to talk about. These are stark realities that are crude and bare and yet captivating.

In short, Désert is a tranquil book that rewards generously every reading with inimitable poetry and a deep affection for humanity.

Désert is available widely in translation. Needless to say it is best enjoyed in its original French. In case you would like to start reading French literature in French, you can always enroll yourself for an online French Course at Babel School of Languages 🙂 Just click on the contact us tab!

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