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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Does the sun not shine for all of us?", 2 Mar 2009
Friederike Knabe "Books are funny little port... (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wandering Star (Lannan Translation Selection Series): 1 (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 (Collection Folio).
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature at its finest! Good to see it getting the attention it deserves!,, 10 Oct 2008
This review is from: Wandering Star (Lannan Translation Selection Series): 1 (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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Wandering Star (Lannan Translation Selection Series): 1
Wandering Star (Lannan Translation Selection Series): 1 by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (Paperback - 7 Oct 2004)
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