Category Archives: jmg leclezio

Herta Who?

Michael really nails it:

As widely noted, the popular reaction (in the US, especially) to the announcement of who took the Nobel Prize in Literature is: ‘Herta who ?’ — just like last year it was … ‘J.M.G. who ?’ (?), etc. etc. A knee-jerk reaction that’s so predictable and widespread that the European media even take note (and make fun): a dpa report gets the headline «Herta who?» – US-Medien klagen über Entscheidung (‘US media complain about decision’) in Die Zeit — or, as De Morgen put it much more clearly in a Dutch translation of the same piece: Amerikaanse media: “Müller, who the f*** is Müller?”.

Surprisingly, the ‘Herta who ?’-attitude extends to outlets who really should know better: there are many examples, but surely among the most outrageous is The Washington Post, with Mary Jordan’s Author’s Nobel Stirs Shock-and-‘Bah’

Like most parochial Americans, I had no clue who Herta Mueller was when the award was announced, but unlike many of my countrymen and -women I was at least able to fairly quickly pick up the fact that she’s considered by many as Germany’s leading author, or at least among them.

Of course, Americans have never heard of her, so why really gives a damn about an author who is one of the leading writers in the world’s fourth-largest economy?

But if I could tone down the irony for a moment, it seems like the Swedes have climbed out of their Jelinek-Pinter-Pamuk slump (too weird, too obvious, too mixed) really hit a groove. After reading some book by JMG Le Clezio, I think he’s a great pick, and from all (knowledgeable) reports, Mueller sounds like a great one too.

Review of Desert by JMG Le Clezio

My review of Desert by 2008 Nobel laureate JMG Le Clezio appears in the new issue of The Critical Flame.

This is the first English translation of Desert, which was originally published in 1980 and was cited by the Swedish Academy as Le Clezio's "breakout" novel. After reading it, I find it impossible to believe that I won't be back for more Le Clezio eventually.

The book is very original in approach and style; for a full explanation of what I mean by that you'd do best to read my review, but right here I'll simply say that I imagine that the Moroccan Sahara is a unique environment, and Le Clezio has approached it with a style worth of this singular subject. Although the book does have characters, it's more about the desert than any one person, and Le Clezio has found an interesting way to address this in the novel. Likewise, although the book is informed by exoticism, colonialism, and warfare, Le Clezio manages to address these subjects without reducing his characters to representatives of the other.

And now, a quote:

Desert was acclaimed as Le Clézio’s “breakout” novel by the Swedish Academy, but the book’s mass appeal can be difficult to see at first — it is not the easiest read to get into. It starts with a gathering of thousands of Moroccans around the famous sheik Ma el Aïnine, a man who led an anti-colonial jihad in the first quarter of the 20th century and succeeded in deposing the Sultan before being turned back by the French military. Although we are introduced to certain characters in this opening scene, Le Clézio’s vantage is so wide that we never attain any degree of intimacy with anyone, and it is clear that what most interests Le Clézio is painting a portrait of this incredible accumulation of human beings and the environment in which they wait. Notably, in this opening section Le Clézio never once directly mentions the broader historical forces in which these people are caught up, or even the reason for which they will march. Though Desert is informed by those turn-of-the-century maladies, colonialism and warfare, it is not about either of these topics in the least. Le Clézio only cares for the lived experience of people caught up in these forces, and he does not dilute their lives with recourse to philosophical or historical abstraction. His panorama is powerful for its sense of humanity amassing in religious conviction from out of the wide and empty desert, but those looking to fiction for vivid characters and a strong sense of plot might be put off by these first fifty pages.

Those, however, who are intrigued by the titular landscape will find much to enjoy . . .

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