Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio – an author for all seasons

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)


Now that the summer is here, there are a few essentials that you need at the beach: the towels, the sun block and the parasol of course but also…good books. Some will opt for frivolous or light novels but for those of you looking for something more substantial, this summer may offer a good occasion to discover – or rediscover – the work of local author and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio which is now, for the most part, available in English.

Hailed by the Nobel Prize committee as “an author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”, Le Clézio was born in Nice in 1940. He began writing at the age of seven en route to Nigeria where his father was a medical doctor in the British army. The family returned to Nice in 1950, where Le Clézio completed his secondary education before attending the Bristol University, the University of London, the University of Aix-en-Provence and the University of Perpignan.

As a writer, Le Clézio made his breakthrough in 1963 with his first novel, Le Procès-verbal (The Interrogation), which was awarded the prestigious Renaudot Prize. Since then, he has published more than 30 books and has lived and taught all over the world – including at a Buddhist university in Thailand.

The author has dual French and Mauritian citizenship and today he and his Moroccan wife, Jemia, share their time between Albuquerque in New Mexico, the island of Mauritius and Nice. Considered by many critics as an avant-garde writer, his work has been inspired by his constant travels. The clash of cultures, man’s struggle against globalization, exile, memory and the endurance of the human spirit are some of the recurrent themes in his books.

Désert (1980), for instance, is an epic novel that spans the twentieth century and ranges across two continents; North Africa and Europe. It tells the story of a young nomad woman, Lalla, from the Sahara who became a successful photo model in France before returning to Tangiers to give birth to her child. A parallel story tells of the crushing of the Tuaregs at the beginning of the 20th century by the French colonizers.

In Étoile Errante (Wandering Star), Le Clézio wrote about a Jewish woman who in 1943, found safety in Saint-Martin-Vésubie. The refugees are eyed with some suspicion by the local population and soon have to flee again and the heroine will spend the following forty years searching for safety and inner peace. Meanwhile, the author’s latest novel,Ritournelle de la Faim explores French guilt over its wartime past.


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