Many of Le Clézio's characters reflect a sense of nostalgia for a time passed or a place left behind in the search for a better future. The prose pieces in this collection are no exception. While mostly still in their youth, the central characters have already experienced displacement - voluntary or forced, from a place and/or their family. The present excitement for the new place may be short lived and images of the past emerge in growing frequency with a glow of past innocence and happiness. The creative tension between the individuals exploring the present and the idealized past gives the stories, or short prose pieces, a supernatural dreamlike quality that is quite unique to Le Clézio and makes them fascinating and emotionally engaging reading.
This collection of prose defies in the most part the classification of "short stories"; there are only two, the first and the last, that could fall into this category: the title story "[the] Heart Burns" the title of which can be interpreted in different ways and the concluding story "Treasure" or, as correctly, "Safe". In between those, several short pieces are more like vignettes or even prose poems which somehow reminds one of Rimbaud's work. Most of the central characters are women, who end up in unfortunate circumstances, exploited or discarded. A situation common among uneducated immigrants in big port cities. Social critique is often an underlying theme for the author, yet it that doesn't overwhelm and take away from the intimate and personal portraits of his characters and their lives. My favourite story is the last, set in and around the ancient city of Petra. In the present Samaweyn, a young local boy, experiences a dreamlike encounter with a visitor who in the end leads him to find peace in himself. Interleaved in his story is that of an earlier, almost spiritual, quest following in the footsteps of the European "re-discoverer" of Petra in the early nineteenth century.
The challenge of language translation, demonstrated by the titles above, increases in the text of the stories. The saying "lost in translation" could not be more aptly applied than for his prose. Le Clézio's fluid style and expressive imagery is an important aspect of the fascination for the reader.
The 2008 Nobel laureate for literature jumped onto the international scene with a rich body of work starting in the 1960s, however English translations are slow in catching up. COEUR BRULE is one of the many books that have not yet been translated into English. Le Clézio, describing himself as a native of Mauritius, is a world citizen in many ways. His themes and stories reflect his life's experience and extensive stays in many countries. Asked about why he writes in French, his answer however is simple: "The French language is my home". [Friederike Knabe]
I loved the first and longest story in this collection. Brilliantly recaptures life in the poorer areas of exotic locations and the perils of maintaining an existence in the face of so many negative influences: climatic extremes, crime and poverty. Yet the conclusion is resolutely optimistic and championing of the human spirit to overcome obstacles. The other tales did not live up to the promise of the rest in my opinion, but the final story did raise my expectations once more.