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Wandering Star (Lannan Translation Selection Series): 1 Paperback – 7 Oct 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Curbstone P.,U.S. (7 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931896119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931896115
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,124,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"...it is a relief to come across Wandering Star (Curbstone, £8.99), a novel written in 1992... This is Nobel-quality writing, an international author with a mature style retelling a story to the peak of his capacity. The English language needs more of it."
-- The Telegraph, January 30th, 2009

"This is Nobel-quality writing, an international author with a mature style retelling a story to the peak of his capacity. The English language needs more of it."
-- The Daily Telegraph, January 30, 2009

'one of the most powerful qualities of the novel is the sense Le Clezio creates of the human connection to place and the anguish of exile and dispossession... In chronicling the parallel suffering of Jews and Arabs, Le Clezio gives us a sadly topical retelling of what he calls elsewhere `the greatest, most ancient of all quests: of a habitat.'
-- The Observer, January 18th, 2009

Review

"...it is a relief to come across Wandering Star (Curbstone, £8.99), a novel written in 1992... This is Nobel-quality writing, an international author with a mature style retelling a story to the peak of his capacity. The English language needs more of it."

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe on 2 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
As Hélène, as her father insisted on calling her, Esther had enjoyed a relatively cheerful and innocent childhood. In 1943, she and her parents find safety in a remote mountain region of Southern France, having fled the German army. The small town of Saint-Martin-Vésubie has turned into a collection point for Jewish and other refugees, eyed with some suspicion by the local population. However, the reprieve is short lived and the fugitives have to flee again... Spanning some forty years of her life, Esther's story is that of a "wandering star", searching for safety and inner peace.

Among the multitude of fictional Holocaust survival stories, Le Clézio's engrossing and superbly written 1992 novel stands out in a number of ways. His insightful portrayal of the heroine, Hélène/Esther, vividly evoked in part through her own voice, captures different, essential stages of her life and is as realistic as it is deeply moving. Esther's astute observation of her surroundings reflects the author's extraordinary talent to convey landscapes in their rich diversity and splendour, often emphasizing the discrepancy between them and the desolate reality of the people who move through them (*). A good example here is the description of the long exhaustive trek over rugged mountain terrain that the refugees have to take to reach the relative safety of Italy. The heart-wrenching struggle of the fugitives, weakened by hunger and anxiety, stands in stark contrast to young girl's awe of the natural environment's exceptional beauty.

Esther, having been brought up by secular parents, is increasingly drawn to the Jewish faith with its rituals, the powerful sounds of the "foreign" language and her hope for clarity in her own identity.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By FRED on 10 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this book two years ago and was blown away, here was an author I had never heard of writing such a powerful, well written novel. He mixes the mythic with a stark realism that goes from disturbing and depressing to an uplifting narrative of the strength of the human spirit. A best selling author in France, Le Clezio has not been well known in the States, so I was pleased to see this book listed in Amazon's top 100 bestsellers. Buy and read this book, you will be touched and it will stay with long after you turn the last page. Speaking of literature that deserves better know do check out "Misfits Country."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 15 reviews
56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Novel on struggles and hopes of refugees 28 Sept. 2004
By Henry Berry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The "wandering stars" are two young girls, each trying to escape from an oppressive, threatening condition. Esther is a Jewish girl who escapes from Nazi-occupied Europe to Israel. Nejma lives in a Palestinian refugee camp. The two girls' lives are not intertwined physically, but rather spiritually in how they both deal with similar feelings of fear, helplessness, and desire for a better life. Le Clezio, a French author of 20 novels, goes beyond politics, cultural differences, and historical moments to cast light on the universal feelings in experiences of suffering and the struggles, desires, and dreams growing out of such experiences.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Buy It For Everyone You Know 29 Dec. 2008
By Nin Chan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Having read some of Le Clezio's earliest work ("The Giants", "War", "Book of Flights", all of which I have also commented upon on Amazon), this book seems like a bit of an anomaly- it is, unlike the aforementioned troika, a sustained narrative written in a limpid, sober, hauntingly spare style. That early triumvirate (now reissued by the good folks at Vintage) is intent on undoing the frayed fabric of fiction, interrogating the repressed political motivations/ramifications of literature as an institution. "Wandering Star", by contrast, is in most respects a rather orthodox novel, save for the somewhat inexplicable shifts between an impersonal, omniscient narrative voice and first-person diary accounts. All of this, I suppose, can be attributed to the decades that separate said works- one can, by comparison, think of the trajectory that Foucault's career would assume with age (from the irreverent stylistic gymnastics of "Order of Things" to the austere, worldly-wise calm of "Care Of The Self").

Such surprises aside, I can, without reservation, affirm that "Wandering Star" is a tremendous feat. While being extraordinarily readable (I would imagine that most readers would be able to finish the novel in two sittings, if not one), it is incredibly suggestive and deeply compassionate, without being maudlin or overwrought. Access to a box of tissues is advised while you read this novel- there are moments of tremendous beauty and sadness. Beyond this, the sheer sensuality of the prose is comparable to the very best of Whitman, early Rimbaud, Camus (the texture and ambience of Esther's sunbaked narrative reminds me very much of "The First Man", Nejma's harrowing half invokes memories of "The Plague"), Gide, Lawrence, Li Bai and Lucretius. I have always felt that Le Clezio is, above all else, a feral, visceral sort of writer- even his earliest works, for all their formal brilliance, structural invention and lexical pyrotechnics, are suffused with a deep, vitalistic affirmation of the sensual world. Le Clezio's sympathies are largely with the corporeal and the tactile, as opposed to the cerebral. This unflinching love of life has assumed various names throughout the history of Western letters- for Spinoza it was the "Conatus", for Blake, "energy", for Nietzsche, the "Will To Power", for Deleuze it was "desire", for Hamsun and Le Clezio it is "hunger", that indestructible, insatiable lust for life that cannot be repressed by any sort of tyranny. It is within the pages of "Wandering Star" that the living pulse beneath all of Le Clezio's novels throbs loudest.

Yet,there is something else that distinguishes "Wandering Star", and Le Clezio's work at large, from the morass of postmodernist muck. Le Clezio is insistent that literature is never an insular, private affair, a hermetic cabal restricted to a privileged few. Literature is always a collective enunciation, storytelling is communal: "That's why Sadi Abou Talib, the Baddawi, the man who would later become my husband and who did not know how to read or write, having learned that I'd been to school in al-Jazzar, asked me to describe everything that we endure in the Nour Chams Camp, so that the world would know, nd no-one would ever forget." (207)..."She sat down in the doorway to our shack, facing outward, not wearing a veil, because she wasn't telling the story just for me." (213)Le Clezio, like all great artists, is keenly aware of the power of fabulation and its centrality to human experience. It is through stories that we herald the dawn, that we proclaim the advent of hope.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful Novel and Compelling Story 6 April 2009
By J. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This was the first book that I had read by Le Clézio and I was impressed.
The novel features outstanding prose and a page turning story. Those elements are the central attractions for this beautifully written novel. It was written in French and translated by C. Dickson. Every page seems to bring some sort of literary delight.

The prose and the descriptions of nature remind one of Hemingway in the opening pages of Farewell to Arms, or George Eliot's Mill on the Floss. But unlike those classics where much of the memorable prose is at the start of the novel, the wonderful prose goes on and on like Flaubert but lighter.

"It was as if there had never been a summer before that one. The sun scorched the grasses in the fields, the stones in the torrent, and the mountain seemed so distant against the dark blue sky. Esther often walked down to the river, deep in the valley, ..."

Most will want to read the book, put it aside, and read it again later.
The opening chapters are wonderfully well written and the character Esther, who is the wandering star, is fascinating. She is a young Jewish girl caught up in the ethnic cleansing of World War II, who tries to escape and make her way to Israel.

As one reads the novel it seems perfect. However, the perfection seems somewhat diminished in the second half. Mainly, the story speeds up as we jump ahead in time, jumping decades near the end of the book. It starts to run a bit too fast for me. Overall, the story seems too short and as we near the end, the spell of a perfect novel is lost.

Most of the novel is about the character Esther, who is the primary character. The second character is introduced in the middle of the book. The story of the second character, is about Nejma, also a young woman, a Palestinian in a refugee camp. Her story is neither as long nor as detailed as Esther's. Also, there is a lack of closure in the stories, and a lack of interconnection between their lives. The two meet only once, and briefly. This creates a missing element in the mind of the reader.

One assumes that the author is attempting to show to young women in parallel stressful situations, to make a point about the development of Israel - and life in general. He accomplishes those goals very effectively.

Putting aside the plot aesthetics, this is a compelling read that I could not put down and I read it in a day. Most will love the novel.

5 stars and a must read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Exodus 29 Dec. 2008
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
May 1948. The State of Israel has just been proclaimed. Two columns of refugees pass one another on a mountain road outside Jerusalem. One is a group of European Jews, now in trucks, nearing the end of their journey to the Holy City. The other, on foot, is a long straggling line of displaced Palestinians starting their own journey to nowhere. Briefly, the columns halt. A seventeen-year-old girl climbs down from her truck and comes face to face with another girl her own age. Their eyes meet. The Palestinian girl writes her name in a notebook, Nejma, and hands it over for the other to do the same: Esther. The columns move off in opposite directions.

It is a powerful image. Had the book jacket not made clear that this was to be the story of two women, it would have come as a surprise. For the first 200 pages have their own shape: the story of Esther's childhood in the French Alpes Maritimes, her narrow escape from the encroaching Holocaust, and her clandestine postwar emigration to Israel. Now Le Clézio counterposes another story, one dominated by deprivation and horror instead of youth and light, though both centered around attractive and resilient young women. But anybody trying to predict the course of the book at this stage would still be wrong.

The only other book by the 2008 Nobel laureate that I have read, ONITSHA, despite its almost mythical African setting, shows similar qualities to this one: adolescent protagonists, life-altering journeys, the mystique of an absent father, the search for home -- and above all the interplay of contrasting narratives. WANDERING STAR is constantly shifting between genres. It opens in radiant simplicity, a tale of growing-up almost like a young adult novel, but it unfolds with curious repetitions, in whorls and petals, at times becoming more a dream than a story. As the Italians withdraw from that part of France and the Germans move in, we move to another familiar trope, that of the Holocaust novel; but again many of the usual expectations are denied, or postponed only to be fulfilled almost as footnotes many pages later.

Over all of this lies the Exodus story. Esther (then called Hélène) is brought up by non-religious parents. There is a striking scene when on a whim she visits the little village synagogue, and the sound of the prayers in a language she doesn't understand becomes for her an all-enveloping light. She gradually begins to experience her own Jewishness, and becomes possessed by the ideal of Eretz Israel and the city of light at its heart. Her journey there will not be easy, but eventually she arrives -- only to have that Exodus story contested by another exodus in the opposite direction.

How will the two narratives be resolved? Can they be resolved? The biblical Exodus led to forty years in the wilderness, forty years of further wandering. The action in WANDERING STAR extends for a similar period and moves to Jordan, Canada, back to France. Readers of ONITSHA will know Le Clézio's penchant for postludes; what he does here is more scattered, more true to life, and possibly more profound. Near the end, Esther revisits her old homes, looking for memories. The old Nazi headquarters has been turned into condos, the torrent that flowed down her village street has become a trickle, the mountain refuge where they once sheltered on their flight is booked up with tourists. But up there among the rocks and grasses she comes to a new realization: that our physical wanderings from place to place are nothing compared to the journeys we make in our minds.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Does the sun not shine for all of us?" 2 Mar. 2009
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As Hélène, as her father insisted on calling her, Esther had enjoyed a relatively cheerful and innocent childhood. In 1943, she and her parents find safety in a remote mountain region of Southern France, having fled the German army. The small town of Saint-Martin-Vésubie has turned into a collection point for Jewish and other refugees, eyed with some suspicion by the local population. However, the reprieve is short lived and the fugitives have to flee again... Spanning some forty years of her life, Esther's story is that of a "wandering star", searching for safety and inner peace.

Among the multitude of fictional Holocaust survival stories, Le Clézio's engrossing and superbly written 1992 novel stands out in a number of ways. His insightful portrayal of the heroine, Hélène/Esther, vividly evoked in part through her own voice, captures different, essential stages of her life and is as realistic as it is deeply moving. Esther's astute observation of her surroundings reflects the author's extraordinary talent to convey landscapes in their rich diversity and splendour, often emphasizing the discrepancy between them and the desolate reality of the people who move through them (*). A good example here is the description of the long exhaustive trek over rugged mountain terrain that the refugees have to take to reach the relative safety of Italy. The heart-wrenching struggle of the fugitives, weakened by hunger and anxiety, stands in stark contrast to young girl's awe of the natural environment's exceptional beauty.

Esther, having been brought up by secular parents, is increasingly drawn to the Jewish faith with its rituals, the powerful sounds of the "foreign" language and her hope for clarity in her own identity. Eventually, after a period of more dramatic journeys, her yearning for Eretz Israel turns into reality. The ship with the refugees lands as the State of Israel is being declared. Having left the duality of her name behind, a new duality comes to the fore: the anticipation and excitement for the new and anticipated happiness and the deep sorrow for what she had to leave behind.

At this point, Le Clézio introduces a new complexity into the narrative. As a counterpart to Esther, the author presents Nejma, a Palestinian girl of Esther's age. The two pass each other on the mountain road towards/away from Jerusalem. They have only time to step out of their respective stream of refugees, touch and share their names. It is a powerful image: their lives moving in opposite directions - one full of hope for the realization of her dream, the other filled with confusion and anxiety, walking into uncertainty having been expelled from her traditional home. Will their lives intersect again? Nejma's journal, while shorter and more compacted than Esther's personal story, is in no way less powerful. In fact, it gives the author the means for touching in a very subtle way on a range of personal and societal challenges faced by Israelis and Palestinians alike. Without Le Clézio taking sides, the reader is drawn into reflections on the fundamental and ongoing drama experienced by the peoples in the region, hinted at in the question by one of the refugees: "doesn't the sun shine for all of us?"

For Esther the wandering does not end yet, however. Will "confronting the evil" of the past finally free her and allow for her to live in the present and to reach out to others? Memories may have to be lived through again before they can be forgotten, but can they really? [Friederike Knabe]

(*) Particularly powerful developed in his 1980 novel, Desert (Nobel Prize Literature 2008) (French Edition).
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