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July Books 7) Desert, by J.M.G. Le Clézio

Ils sont apparus, comme dans un rêve, au sommet de la dune, à demi cachés par la brume de sable que leurs pieds soulevaient.
They appeared as if in a dream at the top of the dune, half-hidden in the cloud of sand rising from their steps.
When Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years back, I was fascinated to discover that he had written a book set partly in the Western Sahara, which is indeed where his story starts and ends, following an uprising of then indigenous people against the Europeans of 1910-11, told from the viewpoint of a young boy close to but not in the events. But more than half of the book, interwoven with the sections set earlier, is the story of Lalla, set perhaps in the early 1950s, following her from a shanty-town near the coast, with her unspeaking herdsman lover, to Marseilles and back. It is Marseilles that turns out to be the real human desert, full of alienation for Lalla; Nour's desert is a vibrant human space, full of physical and cultural significance. It would be interesting to read some critiques of this from sources nearer the region, but I very much enjoyed Le Clézio's turning round the questions of who is alien, what is normal, where is the real desert.

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