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Desert (Verba Mundi) Hardcover – Jun 2009


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine Publisher (Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567923860
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567923865
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 14.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,310,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A rich, sprawling, searching, poetic, provocative, broadly historic and demanding novel, which in all those ways displays the essence of Le Clézio. As a reflection on colonization and its legacy, it is painfully relevant after 30 years.' --New York Times

'Dense, highly measured, intensely imagistic... A book one must admire for its profound seriousness, for its scorched-earth poetics and for its rendering of a lost world.' --Douglas Kennedy, The Times

'[Le Clezio's] tales have epic and exotic qualities...he writes with a moral seriousness and engagement... These stories of displacement and exile are both timely and epic... This is one of Le Clezio's major works... It reveals the history of colonial France in the Arab world.'
--Andrew Hussey, Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

The international bestseller, by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2008, available for the first time in English translation.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book began with a wonderful description of walking through the north African desert, but it became repetitive and tedious. A succession of swollen lips, parched throats and bleeding feet, with one day much like the next. That story is told through the eyes of teenage Noor. A later story is intertwined with it, the story of teenage Lalla, who eventually emigrates to the slums of Marseilles. I found the descriptions of Marseilles more interesting than those of the desert. Lalla's life in Marseilles becomes unbelievable: she becomes a photographer's model, despite being several months pregnant. The pregnancy seems to last for a year or more, and she returns to north Africa to give birth in the sand dunes.
The book is translated from the French into American English, which can be irritating. Nevertheless there is a flow of balladry about it, and the story is reminiscent of Homeric epics. There is a political message about the effects of colonialism on the conquered people. Perhaps there is meant to be a glimmer of hope with the birth of Lalla's child - or perhaps not.
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Format: Paperback
Le Clezio's 'Desert' is an elegy to a bygone age, to a lost way of life and to a lost people. Ostensibly, the novel links two children across the ages; a young boy, Nour, at the turn of the twentieth century travelling with his tribe across the desert to escape the encroaching Christian colonisers; and an orphaned girl, many years later, who despite living in a shanty town with her aunt, is relentlessly drawn to the desert and to the nomadic way of life. It's a loose link though and like the sands they both walk on, any significance between their stories shifts as the novel progresses.

Where Le Clezio's novel is beautiful is in its depiction of the desert. This is both broadly cinematic, full of the wide horizon scorched by the burning sun and intensely personal with the description of the trail left in the sand by a passing snake or the sharp stones that cut the feet, among others. Le Clezio spends a huge proportion of the novel deep in the sands of the desert, bringing the heat, the wind and the grains of sand so vividly to life that nothing else seems to have any real significance.

In many ways therefore, Nour's story (by far the shorter of the two) puts a human context to the desert. His life shows the ancient synchronicity between man and the extremes of the desert, stripped as his story is of almost all traditional or religious details. Lalla's story in turn seems simply to underline the atmosphere he portrays in the desert: Her story is far from entirely credible (how does she travel without papers,how does she achieve so much in so little time, how does she return without the ability to read and why is everyone suddenly obsessed with her eyes?
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ann Noonan on 27 Dec 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved the different rhythmns of life which are fundamental to this book. In the evenings I often read aloud a book which my husband and I are following and the language in 'Desert' is lyrical. I cannot say that I understand the mentality of the heroine but that does not stop my admiration for her character and her ability to survive. She has the ability to keep inside herself her own stability and happiness. The blending of the historical defeat against colonial powers and the love of the people for the desert despite incredible hardships is fundamental to the building of the character of the heroine.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
LeClézio won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 2008, primarily for this work. In the making of such awards, like the premise that the Supreme Court makes its legal decisions based on the results of the last election, there are undoubtedly significant political considerations. LeClézio has written about "The European Dilemma," to play off a phrase originally formulated by his fellow European, Gunnar Myrdal, when he wrote An American Dilemma: Negro Problem and Modern Democracy: 1 (Black & African-American Studies) in 1944. Each book, in quite different ways, examines the problems of a democratic society with a significant unassimilated minority, which has been brought, or induced to come, for the value of their "cheap labor." LeClézio's book concerns France, a country that is nominally Christian, but largely secular, far more so than the United States; 10-12% of France's population is Muslim, mainly from the Maghreb (Northwestern Africa.) The "assimilation," or lack of same, of the latest arrivals to France is the central theme.

LeClézio novel is presented as two alternating stories; the first is of the coming-of-age boy, Nour, and is set in 1909-10, when French forces are hunting down "rebel" leaders and their followers in Mauritania and southern Morocco. The second narrative is of Lalla, a coming-of-age girl who decides to flee her bleak life in a "bidonville" (a shanty town) and seek her "fortune" in Marseille. The author does not give an exact date for her story, but it must be in the late `70's. The author never directly addresses the "cause and effect" aspects of these stories; it is left to the reader.
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