Desert by Nobel- prize winner J.M.G. Le CLezio, which was cited by the academy in its presentation of the award,more than rewards its readers. The academy called "Desert" his breakthrough novel,one which examined both a lost African culture and also treated Europe and its hard-edged cities from the perspective of a Moroccan immigrant.
Desert is published by the award-winning publisher David R.Godine, who also published "Life, A User's Manual",one of the great works of the 20th century by Oulipo author Georges Perec(and shortly to be reissued in a corrected format this fall).
"Desert" consists of two intercut stories,one the story of a doomed rebellion of Ma el Ainine, the sheik known as Water of the Eyes and his Tuareg warriors , their women and children, on a death march away from colonial soldiers across the barren desert they love in the first decade of the 20th century. Le Clezio pairs this story with a tale of one of the descendants of the group, an orphaned girl named Lalla who lives with her aunt in a shantyown on the edge of the desert in the last half of the century.
Le CLezio, who started his career with postmodern sagas of the wars and diseases of civilization and the rigors of existential life, now turns to a prose poem of lived experience and oral storytelling ,which is long on beauteous description of people and their environs , but short on character development and traditional plot. But you feel so strongly the sensuous lived experience that you can imagine yourself picking sand grains out of your skin listening to some griot as the sun boiled down the horizon-
The writing is exquisite, as is the concern with humanity and suffering and the idelible portrait drawn of the desert and its nuanced radiant life in the midst of barrenness. The fact that Lalla was taken places in the desert by the speechless orphan the Hartani that no other human had occasioned to go, presages her return to the desert after she escapes to Marseilles to avoid a forced marriage, becomes rich from being a photographer's model, and then is impregnated.
The money is thrown aside - for a return to the wind blown harsh environment where free men live.
For otherwise, in the words of the nomad song--"One day,one day,the crow will turn white, the sea will go dry,we will find honey in the desert forever, we will make bedding of acadia sprays,oh, one day, the snake will spit no more poison,and the rifle bullets will bring no more death, for that will be the day I will leave my love..'
No book I have ever read has captured the love and the blood passion for such raw and impassioned existence. The wind and sand and stars are veritable characters in this absolutely stunning novel, which returns humanity to all of us.