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"I am going into the void, toward the darkness, gliding in the middle of the sea to a future that can not be known.",
This review is from: The Prospector (Paperback)
Creating an adventure story which is also a coming-of-age story and an exploration of culture, Nobel Prize-winning author J. M. G. Le Clezio sets this novel in Mauritius, where his French family has deep roots and where he now has a home. The novel is unique--filled with lush descriptions and vibrant characters who appeal to the romantic in all of us while simultaneously evoking the violence and horror which mar their lives and make a mockery of "civilization." The novel's exotic setting inspires dreams of lost worlds, mysteries, and lives tied to nature and its beauties. At the same time, however, the author is exploring the damage wrought by plantation owners who have created and cruelly oversee the sugarcane fields worked by underpaid local help.
Alexis L'Etang, a child when the book opens in 1892, lives in Boucan, an area of Mauritius so remote that he and his sister Laure must be taught by their mother, as there is no nearby school. Theirs is a richly imaginative world, filled with stories which make their world less solitary. Their father, a dreamer, wants to build a generator to provide power for their part of the island, but he has over-mortgaged his house and land to his brother, a plantation owner. He keeps himself and Alexis inspired by maps and sketches he has acquired which show where the "Unknown Corsair" has buried his treasure on a nearby island.
As the author traces Ali's life over the ensuing thirty years, the reader observes him as a poor college student, an office worker, and eventually, in 1910, as a sailor on his way to nearby Roderigues, where he plans to search for the Unknown Corsair's treasure. Aided by Ouma, a young native woman, he spends almost two years identifying locations on his treasure map, before reality and World War I intrude.
Le Clezio is straightforward here, not subtle, creating over-the-top characters who face traumatic events while living under extreme pressures, characters who are not "ordinary" and who do not lead "ordinary" lives but who nevertheless captivate the reader and keep his/her attention. The novel often resembles an allegory in that every phase of the action over thirty years teaches a moral lesson or emphasizes a theme, to which the author deliberately calls attention. At various times his characters remind us that "Gold is worthless. You must not be scared of it," "[Death] is deceitful and insidious, keeping its whereabouts secret until it wants to pounce," "In the end it's the lice who win wars." The lush descriptions, the often idyllic setting, and the sensual romantic scenes counterbalance the moralizing, however, while the constant intrusion of harsh realities keeps the novel from becoming sentimental or predictable. Readers interested in becoming acquainted with Le Clezio's writing may find this straightforward novel an ideal starting place. Mary Whipple