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Nobel Prize for Literature Goes to A Frenchman: Meet Him And His Publisher

abstract:To any writer the Nobel Prize for Literature is the ultimate award of the year because it recognizes the merit of not just one book or novel, but the work of a lifetime; the author's literary legacy brought to the attention of the world and placed among distinguished peers of past and present. This year the prestigious award goes to Frenchman, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Jean-Marie has over 40 published works, 12 of which are translated to English. He is considered by some as one of France's greatest living writers and essayists. Here in North America we have a small Boston publisher to thank for his works. David Godine specializes in beautifully made books and hand selected literary properties and translations.Thank you David. (Read about DGB in next month's featured publisher.) The Swedish Academy praised Le Clézio as an “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy.” Discover the 2008 Nobel Prize winner, and read excerpts from some of his books.


October 19, 2008

About The Author

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was born on April 13, 1940, in Nice. His father was a physician who worked in Nigeria during WWII and took his family there as well as to the island colony of Mauritius, finally settling back in the south of France at Nice. Jean-Marie grew up speaking French and English. He studied English at Bristol University in 1958-59, completed his undergraduate degree at the Institut d’Études Littéraires in Nice in 1963, and took his master’s degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence in 1964. He has traveled extensively as a professor and taught at universities in Bangkok, Mexico City, Boston, Austin and Albuquerque, to name a few. He writes about the cultures and ecologies of the places he's visited, capturing the contrasts between the native residents and conquerers. Listen to his telephone interview with the Nobel website informing him of his prize.

French president French President Nicolas Sarkozy was quick to hail the win as a sign of France's cultural influence. "A child in Mauritius and Nigeria, a teenager in Nice, a nomad of the American and African deserts, Jean-Marie Le Clézio is a citizen of the world, the son of all continents and cultures," Sarkozy said. "A great traveller, he embodies the influence of France, its culture and its values in a globalised world."

The Nobel website sites, "His debut novel was the first in a series of descriptions of crisis, which includes the short story collection La fièvre (1965; Fever, 1966) and Le déluge (1966; The Flood, 1967), in which he points out the trouble and fear reigning in the major Western cities."

It continues with "Le Clézio is distinguished as an 'ecologically engaged author". This is demonstrated in the novels Terra amata (1967; Terra Amata, 1969), Le livre des fuites (1969; The Book of Flights, 1971), La guerre (1970; War, 1973) and Les géants (1973; The Giants, 1975). His definitive breakthrough as a novelist came with Désert (1980), a work that captures the magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert, contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants. The main character, the Algerian guest worker Lalla, is a utopian antithesis to the ugliness and brutality of European society. For Désert he received the French Academy Prize. "

His breadth of cultural sensitivity is expressed, "During the same period, Le Clézio published the meditative essay collections L’extase matérielle (1967), Mydriase (1973) and Haï (1971), the last of which shows influences from Indian culture. Long stays in Mexico and Central America in the period 1970 to 1974 were of decisive significance for his work, and he left the big cites in search of a new spiritual reality in the contact with the Indians. He met the Moroccan Jemia, who became his wife in 1975, the same year Voyage de l’autre côté was published, a book in which he gives an account of what he learned in Central America. Le Clézio began the translation of the major works of the Indian tradition, such as Les prophéties du Chilam Balam. Le rêve mexicain ou la pensée interrompue (1998) testifies to his fascination with Mexico’s magnificent past."

And finally, bringing us up to present, "Since the 90s Le Clézio and his wife share their time between Albuquerque in New Mexico, the island of Mauritius and Nice. “Ballaciner,” published in 2007 is described by the Nobel committee as “a deeply personal essay about the history of the art of film and the importance of film in the author’s life, from the hand-turned projectors of his childhood, the cult of cinéaste trends in his teens, to his adult forays into the art of film as developed in unfamiliar parts of the world.”—Nobel Website

If I were to suggest two novels from Jean-Marie's oeuvre, I would pick the novel that launched him critically, Désert (1980) and The Prospector his most recent novel, “Ballaciner,”

Excerpts From Select Novels

Wandering Star (“Wandering Star”) (1992), translated from the French by C. Dickson.

In the beginning of summer most of the children were like little savages — sunbrowned faces, arms and legs, bits of grass tangled in their hair, torn, dirt-smudged clothes. Esther loved going out with the children every morning, in that mixed group of boys and girls, Jewish children and children from the village, all rowdy, tousled — Mr. Seligman’s class. With them, she ran through the still-cool, narrow village streets, then across the large square making dogs bark and old people sitting in the sun grumble. They followed the street with the stream down toward the river, cut through the fields to reach the cemetery. When the sun burned down hot, they bathed in the icy waters of the torrent. The boys stayed down below and the girls climbed up the torrent to hide behind the huge boulders. But they knew the boys came into the bushes to spy on them, they could hear their muffled snickering and they splashed water around haphazardly and let out shrill shrieks.

Esther was the wildest of them all with her black curly hair cropped short, her brown face, and when her mother saw her come home for lunch she said, “Hélène, you look like a gypsy!” That pleased her father and so he said her name in Spanish, “Estrellita, little star.”

He was the one who’d first shown her the vast grassy fields high above the village, above the torrent. Still farther up began the road leading to the mountains, the dark forest of larches — but that was another world. Gasparini said that in winter there were wolves in the forest and if you listened at night, you could hear them howl far off in the distance. But as hard as she listened at night in her bed, Esther had never heard their howling, maybe because of the sound of the water that was constantly streaming down the middle of the street.

“Pawana” (John from Nantucket) (1992), translated from the French by Christophe Brunski.

It was in the beginning, at the very beginning, when there was nobody on the sea, nothing more than birds and sunlight. Since childhood I had dreamed of going there, to this place where all began and all ended. They spoke of it as though of a secret, like a treasure. In Nantucket they all spoke about it, talking as though drunk. They said that over there in California there existed a secret place in the ocean where the whales went to birth their young, and where the old females went to die. There was this reservoir, this immense shallow in the sea, where they gathered by the thousands, the youngest along with the oldest, and the males formed a protective circle around them to prevent orcas and sharks from entering, and the sea roiled under the crash of fins, the sky grew misty with the spray of blowholes, with the cries of the birds sounding like a forge.

This is what they said. They all told stories of this place as though they had seen it. And I, on the piers of Nantucket, I listened to them and also remembered as though I had been there.

And now it all has disappeared. I remember it, it is as though my life has been this dream alone, in which everything that was beautiful and new in the world was undone, destroyed. I never returned to Nantucket. Does the ripple of this dream still exist?



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