Tag-Archive for ◊ circumstances ◊

Author:
• Saturday, January 29th, 2011

J.M.G. Le Clezio was born in 1940 in Nice, France from French parents who were first cousins and originally from Brittany. Both their families emigrated to Mauritius in the 18th century which was at the time a British colony and where Le Clezio’s father was born.

In 1947 Le Clezio had to travel to Nigeria with his mother and brother to join their husband and father who was serving as a doctor there, during the Second World War. The family returned to Nice in 1950.

Le Clezio went to school in Nice, in 1957. With his baccalaureate in literature and philosophy in hand, he continued his studies at Bristol University, London University and l’Institut d’Etudes Littéraires in Nice. He received his M.A. Degree in 1964 from the University of Aix-en-Provence and wrote his thesis on Mexico’s early history, which entitled him to a doctorate degree at the University of Perpignan in 1983.

Le Clezio grew up with two languages, French and English. He taught at universities in Bangkok, Mexico City, Boston, Austin and Albuquerque to mention but a few.

Le Clezio has obtained several prestigious literary prizes :
Prix Renaudot in 1963, Prix Larbaud in 1972, Grand Prix Paul Morand de l’Académie française in 1980, Grand prix Jean Giono in 1997,Prix Prince de Monaco in 1998, Stig Dagermanpriset in 2008, The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 and he was rewarded the highest Mexican award for foreigners,The Aztec Eagle in 2010. He was made chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1991 and was promoted to officier de la Légion d’honneur in 2009.

Le Clezio has been married twice, in 1960 and in 1975. He has two daughters, one from each wedlock.

Le Clezio wrote and sold many books which have been translated into several languages. He is one of France’s well known prestigious contemporary writers.

His novel, Desert, was published in France in 1980. Twenty-eight years later it was singled out among all his work by the Nobel Prize Academy as his “definitive breakthrough as a novelist”.

The story of Desert is the tale of two young Moroccan teenagers from different generations, Nour and Lalla. They both belong to a nomadic tribe of warriors, called “the blue men”. They are both struggling for survival in a different way and their lives never connect. Their two stories run in parallel throughout the novel and take place in two different time periods, Nour being born in the nineteenth century and Lalla much later in the twentieth century.

The first period which starts from 1909 and ends in 1912, is related by Nour, a young teenager, whose family left everything behind to join the march with other North African tribes who also had to leave their homes, due to the advancing French colonialists pushing them out of their native land. They march stoically, an endless exhausting journey in the inclement North African desert climate, hoping to reach the haven promised by their old and wise venerated religious leader, Ma el Aïnine. Unfortunately Nour will witness the defeat of his people’s rebellion due to hunger and exhaustion against the better equipped and trained French army.

The second period which ends in the near contemporary, is the story of Lalla, a young wild and solitary teenager. She is an orphan raised by her aunt in a poor coastal, Moroccan shanty town. Lalla can’t read or write but that doesn’t seem to matter to her, as long as she can listen to her aunt’s stories and the tales of the old fisherman, Naman and as long as she is close to nature and feels part of it. Being wild at heart, she likes the sea, the sand, the animals and the insects.

Therefore, when circumstances lead Lalla to Marseilles, she feels bewildered in the big city. Completely cut off from nature she feels like a fish out of water and isn’t happy despite becoming famous as a front cover model with great career potential. Away from her beloved wild nature back home, she couldn’t survive. Lalla is a lonely young woman and the only way for her to be happy again is to go back to nature where she once belonged and where she feels the meaning of real freedom. She also longs to see her dearest, beloved deaf and dumb best friend, Hartani, the shepherd.

In Desert, the description of the landscape is so real and vivid that the reader can almost feel the heat of the scorching sand during the day, the bitter, bleak cold at night and the vastness of the endless North African desert. Nature in the novel constitutes an important part. It has its rules, its beauty, its harshness but also its whims.

Desert is not a thriller and doesn’t rely on a plot — it should be read and savoured slowly, like all good things in life. Desert is just sheer beautiful writing with a historical background and a great deal of love and compassion. A poetic profound contemplation with an enhanced enchanting leitmotiv, a sort of an ode to Nature in general and to the North African Desert and its nomadic people in particular.

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Author:
• Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Javier Cercas was born in Ibahemando in Caceras in Spain in 1962. In 1980 he was a teacher for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA. Since 1989 he has been a lecturer in Spanish literature at the University of Gerona in Spain where he lives.

He is a constant contributor to the Catalan edition of El Pais newspaper and the Sunday supplement. Javier Cercas is a novelist and essayist. He received several literary prizes for his book about the Spanish civil war, Soldiers of Salamis, published in 2001. It was translated into fifteen languages, sold about half a million copies and was made into a film. He also wrote:
The Motive in 1987
The Tenant in 1989
The Belly of the Whale in 1997
True Tales in 2000
The Speed of Light in 2006

The Speed of Light (La Velocidad de la Luz) is a short book covering a period of sixteen years, in which the author deals with many themes: Guilt, the impossibility of redemption, the difficulty of forgetting the too painful past, the true significance of success and failure and how success can be a source of corruption, the suppressed evil in human nature, psychological trauma due to the Vietnam war and also the valuable legacy of a writer. “I write novels about the adventure of writing novels” Cercas said.

The novel begins with the quiet and uneventful life of the nameless narrator in Barcelona, then his life in Urbana in the USA where he becomes a teacher of Spanish for two years. The climax is reached towards the middle of the book, with the discovery of Rodney Falk’s involvement in the Vietnam war, which will shed a light on Rodney’s solitude and peculiar behaviour. The story comes full circle at the end of the novel, when the narrator concludes that fame like war, can destroy a person’s life. That is the main strong tie that linked Rodney to the narrator, and what made the narrator obsessed with Rodney’s mysterious past, in particular about what happened in My Khe by the elite fighting unit called Tiger Force, of which Rodney was a part.

The book is not about the Vietnam war only. The Vietnamese war was used to illustrate the author’s message, about how a healthy-minded and ambitious young person (like the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness, which takes place in the Belgian Congo and the same Kurtz in the Francis Ford Coppola film about the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now), can turn into a monster due to harsh circumstances. Like success and fame can also be strongly damaging to a man.

It’s “the reality of evil, the impossibility of redemption” and the catastrophe of fame. Cercas suggests in his novel that one can be successful without falling into narcissism. The narrator analyses himself as well as his friend Rodney throughout the novel and enjoys his lengthy literary and witty conversation with him.

Although the novel never reveals the narrator’s name, the narrator in The Speed of Light is none other than the author himself. Like the narrator, Cercas has also taught Spanish in Urbana for two years and while he was living there he met a Vietnam war veteran who was sitting on a bench, watching some children play ball. Cercas then asked himself: “What does that man’s look hide? What is he doing there?” That image, which refers to Rodney Falk’s character, was the starting point of the novel. Cercas, like the narrator, had also a very big success with his book about the Spanish civil war called Soldiers of Salamis. Too many similarities.

Like the French novelist, Marcel Proust, Javier Cercas, in The Speed of Light, has a heavy style of writing long sentences, some of which can extend to almost a page.

Cercas said in one of his interviews: “Most writers, or at least myself, don’t have motivations before writing a book. I decide to write a novel to solve a question that I have asked myself, and as I write the novel, I begin raising moral, political, and other types of issues… Novelists aim at persuading their audience that what they are reading is true… I invite my readers to join me in the process of writing the novel. So on one hand I tell them, “this is a novel”, and on the other, “this is completely true; this has happened to me and it could happen to you”. It’s all about shaking the reader’s conscience”.

Cercas, when asked why he likes to write books about wars, answered: “There is a story my mother has told me hundreds of times that’s always fascinated me. The beginnings of my interest in the war may well stem from this. It’s the story of the family hero, her handsome sixteen-year-old uncle”. He went to war, died as a hero, and was never forgotten by his niece.

The narrator mentioned twice in the book about traveling at the speed of light in order to uncover the future, once towards the middle in page 106, and the second time towards the end in page 253. He said: “I had the impression that everything had accelerated, that everything had started to run faster than usual, faster and faster, faster, faster, and at some moment there had been a blaze, a maelstrom and a loss, I thought I’d unknowingly traveled faster than the speed of light and what I was now seeing was the future”.