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4.0 out of 5 stars Lost on the sands of time
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...
Published on 3 Aug 2011 by Sofia

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3.0 out of 5 stars Homeric account of defeated nomadic tribes
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...
Published 19 months ago by Dr. H. E. Ross


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3.0 out of 5 stars Homeric account of defeated nomadic tribes, 9 May 2013
By 
Dr. H. E. Ross (Stirling, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Desert (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Lost on the sands of time, 3 Aug 2011
By 
Sofia (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Desert (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?) but she embodies the mysticism of the desert, of the legends of the desert peoples and illustrates how at odds they are with our modern world.

So, 'Desert' is a deeply evocative book but it is not a traditional character-based yarn. It's a beautiful book, but at times strangely paced and some of the sudden leaps in Lalla's story can be quite jarring. The title however is 'desert' and make no mistake, the central character here is very much the desert not the people. If you have the patience to bear with that, you will enjoy it.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Desert, 27 Dec 2010
This review is from: Desert (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Mauritania, Morocco, and Marseille..., 10 Mar 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Desert (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.

"Desert" isn't an easy read, but then neither is Faulkner or Joyce. I felt the real strength of the novel is LeClézio's ability, as someone coming from an industrialized country, to depict accurately the pre-industrialized outlook. It is fully attuned to the natural world, where awareness of the phase of the moon is intrinsic; a life without watches; a life full of djinns and spirits. LeClézio's novel reminded me of the works of AbdulRahman Al Munif, particularly Cities of Salt: A Novel in which he depicts the pre-industrialized outlook in Arabia as it collides with the foreign oil workers from Aramco. I also found Lalla's experiences in Marseille quite evocative. It is a city that I had disliked for a considerable period, but finally adjusted my outlook; instead of trying to see another Provencal village, I realized it was simply a "sunny New York."

However, I did have some problems with the novel. Sorry, I do have a watch, and a calendar, and Lalla's experiences over the nine months of her pregnancy were just too unrealistic. Among other matters, she became fluent in French in apparently four or five months. I also felt that various descriptions of the desert world were too expansive, and at times redundant. And geographically, the depiction of the location of the "bidonville" did not conform with the landscape of Northern Morocco. There could also have been tighter editing; for example, how many times was the reader told about the "bristling hair" on the dogs in Marsaille? And then there is a problem for mono-lingual readers. Books written in English sometimes have non-translated French or German, assuming the reader knows these languages, or inferring the meaning by context. LeClézio ups the language requirements by including non-translated Arabic, such as the words: "majnoon," and "ummi." Ok, so maybe we should be learning, and in these cases its "crazy," and "my mother."

Much credit should go to LeClézio for his depiction of one of Europe's central problems, not now, when there is so much focus on the so-called "clash of civilizations," but rather at its very inception, in the `60's and `70's. His novel will remain a seminal work as we seek solutions to the problem. Finally, it was heart-warming to note that Leclézio has chosen Albuquerque as his home, for six months of the year. No doubt the desert environment, similar to Mauritania, is a pull. Unfortunately he seems to be unrecognized in his adopted hometown, which may be the way he prefers it. Still, it is an honor, and he should be much more widely read.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 05, 2010)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Desert, 28 Feb 2011
This review is from: Desert (Paperback)
I agree with the review by Ann Noonan, in the sense that this book is primarily about rhythm. The main character whose ancestors lived free in the desert, is forced to leave and emigrate to Marseilles in France. The difference of pace in the narration transports us in two different worlds with different values and hardships.
However, I only gave it 4 stars as it can be difficult to engage with the book. It could be a little dated, and I am looking forward to read more recent work by le Clezio.
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Desert
Desert by J. M. G. Le Clezio (Paperback - 1 Mar 2011)
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