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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "As if she had only slept an hour or two... "
Lalla and Nour, the two young protagonists of this engrossing novel, have a lot in common. Descendants of an ancient Berber tribe in the Western Sahara, they carry the traditions, the stories and visions of their tribe, and, last not least, the intimate connectedness to the rugged desert lands of their forebears. Still, their lives never connected directly: Nour was born...
Published on 3 Jan. 2009 by Friederike Knabe

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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars THIS BOOK IS IN FRENCH *** THIS BOOK IS IN FRENCH
Beware! This is a Fench edition. The descripitions and reviews are in English - it does say it is French half way down the page, but this is very easy to miss.
Published on 7 April 2010 by Amazon Customer


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "As if she had only slept an hour or two... ", 3 Jan. 2009
By 
Friederike Knabe "Books are funny little port... (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
Lalla and Nour, the two young protagonists of this engrossing novel, have a lot in common. Descendants of an ancient Berber tribe in the Western Sahara, they carry the traditions, the stories and visions of their tribe, and, last not least, the intimate connectedness to the rugged desert lands of their forebears. Still, their lives never connected directly: Nour was born at the end of the nineteenth century and Lalla could have been his great-grandchild, a teenager probably in the nineteen seventies. Their two narrative streams are interleaved, resulting in a moving and extraordinary portrait of two special children, their culture and times. Each an astute observer of their surroundings, their view of the world, while innocent and dreamlike, also holds depth and hope for the future.

From the first pages Le Clézio's "Désert" carries the reader into another world: a caravan of nomadic Berber tribes, led by the famous "Men in blue", the Tuareg, slowly winds it way through a landscape harsh and bleak to the extreme, yet stunningly beautiful and profoundly mystical. The Berber and Tuareg clans have called this part of the Sahara desert their home for thousands of years. In the North (today's Morocco) the chiefs were promised new pasture land to settle. Based on the historical events of 1909 to 1912 when the sovereignty of the tribal chiefs under the leadership of Ma el Ainine was finally crushed by the French colonial forces, the author introduces Nour as the young observer. Through his eyes we follow the Berber efforts to protect the ancestral lands from invading forces and ward off the "soldiers of the Christians". Ma el Ainine, revered as a holy man and grand chief by his people, was regarded by the French as a "fanatic", a "savage" and murderer who needed to be destroyed at all cost. Le Clézio realistically depicts the desolate conditions facing the chiefs, their ragged warriors, and the women and children, weakened by hunger, following behind as well as they could. Nonetheless, his empathy with these proud defenders of their desert lands is openly displayed through Nour's perspective. At the time of publication in 1980, it was rare for a French author to take so determinedly the position of the historical underdog as Le Clézio.

The other protagonist, Lalla, a lone orphan raised by her aunt, is like a spirit child of African story telling. Living in a desolate shanty town on the outskirts of a Moroccan sea-side town, she prefers nature to people and is irresistibly drawn to the desert close by, the rugged hills and high plateaus where she dreams and loses herself in the stories of her mysterious past. She senses, mainly subconsciously, her unique heritage deeply rooted in herself: belonging to an ancient desert tribe, deeply connected to the sun-drenched and parched land that constantly calls her. The line between reality and visions are easily blurred, especially whenever she feels the intense watchful eye of "Es Ser", who she calls "the Secret One". Her only friends are the mute shepherd boy Hartani and the old fisherman, Naman. From one she learns to see beyond and below the stone boulders, the crevasses and the sea of sand; with the old story teller she discovers the countries beyond the ocean where white gleaming cities offer a different kind of future.

Eventually, circumstances lead her into that other world, but what she observes and experiences is nothing like what she was told by Naman. The description of Lalla's life in Marseilles is a devastating yet visually powerful portrait of the city's underbelly. Radicz, the young beggar and thief, becomes her guide into this foreign culture. Le Clézio does not hesitate to use a somewhat unrealistic scenario of the rags to riches kind to elucidate the extraordinary personality that he imagines for Lalla as she grows into a young adult. It is not difficult to guess where Lalla's journey ends: "it felt as if she had only slept an hour or two"...

At several levels, this novel is all about journeys - physical and mental/emotional. Whether the long trek north by the Berber tribes through the exhilarating desert landscape of what is now the still disputed region of Western Sahara, or Lalla's exploration of the same landscape in southwestern Morocco, the spiritual journeys of Nour and Lalla are intimately connected. The "coming of age" component sees both young protagonists explore their identities, roots and roles. Some readers might find the lengthy descriptions of searching, wandering and constantly moving somewhat too drawn out and slow. However, the deliberately used repeats and slight atmospheric variations may encourage the reader to slow down to the speed of a camel caravan; a speed where we can ourselves see beyond the surface to discover the intricate and rich physical and mental landscape that his protagonists share. The review is of the French original, unfortunately no English translation appears to be in print at this time. For Désert Le Clézio was awarded the Académie Française's Grand Prix Paul Morand. [Friederike Knabe]
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4.0 out of 5 stars Desert, 26 April 2010
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Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
This book has just been published in English, and I would be interested to see how it translates. (As an English speaker, I laboured through it in French, with a handful of phrases for which I could not work out the sense.)

I doubt whether any translation (except perhaps one by the bilingual author) can do justice to the language, which is like a long, rhythmic, hypnotically repetitive free verse poem about the harshly beautiful infinity of the desert to which man must adjust, for it makes no concessions. The lives of the nomads, barren existences of grinding poverty in the initial estimation of a privileged westerner, are in fact shown to have a dignity and sense of community, in balance with nature.

The narrative switches between 1909-12, when the desert warriors, the men in blue veils, are making their last abortive stand against the Christian imperialist invaders of North Africa, and the late C20 where the North Africans live a debased life in the coastal shanty towns - debased since they are desperately poor, but have lost contact with their old culture of desert-based nomadic self-sufficiency - and dream of life in great cities like Marseilles. Each thread focuses on a particular individual - in the earlier period, a young boy called Nour follows the ill-fated trek north across the desert to the sea in the wake of the charismatic leader Ma el Ainine, rendered ineffectual by age and his inadequate resources to fight the westeners with their artillery.

Nour's modern-day descendant is Lalla, the beautiful young girl, fascinated by and in tune with the desert, who nevertheless makes the journey to Marseilles where she is thrown into the squalid life of the immigrant scraping a living in a corrupt and ugly city which is portrayed as another type of desert, until her life is transformed in a way that I cannot reveal for fear of creating a "spoiler" except to say that I found it implausible and could not see how it added to the tale.

The book often frustrated me in its slow pace. Small details observed in passing, or the "greater scheme of things" seem more important than a strong plot line and well-developed series of interactions and events. Perhaps this is intentional, all part of a contemplative, spiritual focus which appears to be Le Clezio's main concern. The narrative speeds up with more moments of real pathos and drama towards the end - crises of life and death - but some of the significant events and characters on the way are underdeveloped - again, this may may be deliberate, since the book is mostly about the ambience and power of desert places. Given the missed opportunities for engagement between the main characters, I was struck by the way Le Clezio seems to have made an exception in the over-romanticised portrayal of Lalla.

Despite these apparently strong reservations, this book will stay with me, in terms of the evocative power of the language and the vivid visual images it conjured up of the desert landscapes in various lights, and of the nomads. Le Clezio describes the relatively few events of this book, people's thoughts and sensations, in minute detail. In so doing, he makes the reader more self aware, more attuned to the details of his or her own surroundings.....
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5.0 out of 5 stars Magical !, 6 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
Unique ! Le Clezio weaves a believable tale, largely from a young woman's point of view. It is a really beautiful read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars study french literature, 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
Quite long, but very poetic and creates an amazing image in one's mind of the desert and the town of Marseille.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars THIS BOOK IS IN FRENCH *** THIS BOOK IS IN FRENCH, 7 April 2010
This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
Beware! This is a Fench edition. The descripitions and reviews are in English - it does say it is French half way down the page, but this is very easy to miss.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting read, 17 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
I bought this book to develop my French vocabulary, but I was in for a bit of a personal surprise when I got into reading it and started living in the narrator's world. It had been recommended to me by a good friend who had read it in English.

Let me start by saying that this is the kind of book that follows you like a shadow for days after reading it, that causes you to change and think over and over again about the ideas found in it. It is one of those books that troubles you, resulting in a meaningful shift, it's contents filled with that which we don't expect. This kind of novels don't have a relaxing effect and if you start reading them with such an intention you become more troubled than you were before you sat down in your chair, relaxed and ready to read it.

It is a book that doesn't approve with the familiar lies we tell to ourselves, or the lies that go around in the world. The book also has great ambitions, the literary form tries to be as original as possible. The problems raised by the book are very critical and troubling and sometimes are suffocating and exaggerated, but I think this is part of the writer's intention.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The non-romance of deserts, 5 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Désert (Collection Folio) (Mass Market Paperback)
This book is unforgettable. It is an exquisitely detailed epic story of fighting for survival in the harsh conditions on the edge of the Sahara. I didn't understand how the past and present stories melded, but followed with bated breath the anguishing story that moved our heroine to Marseille and back to western Morocco.
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Désert (Collection Folio)
Désert (Collection Folio) by Le Clezio (Mass Market Paperback - 1 Jan. 1985)
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