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3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  879 ratings  ·  107 reviews

"Desert is a novel composed of two alternating narratives, set in counterpoint. The first takes place in the desert between 1909 and 1912 and evokes the migration of a young adolescent boy, Nour, and his people, the Blue Men, notorious warriors of the desert. Driven from their lands by French colonial soldiers, Nour's tribe has come to the valley of the Saguiet El Hamra to

Paperback, 438 pages
Published September 1st 1985 by Gallimard Education (first published January 1st 1980)
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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn WaughThe Caliph's House by Tahir ShahHideous Kinky by Esther FreudHope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila LalamiNaked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Books Set in Morocco
10th out of 87 books — 47 voters
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Best European Literature
264th out of 627 books — 238 voters

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Displacement, exile, refugee crossing, ethnic cleansing. J. M. G. Le Clézio's themes are heavy. They are the stuff of enduring human conflicts, the bane of civilization. Yet the register of his writing makes bearable the human failings and violence it seeks to redress. His prose register is poetry, but it is poetry lightened by silence and simplicity.

"There is no limit to the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another", says J. M. Coetzee's eponymous novelist in Elizabeth C

This French author won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008. I had never heard of him before his award, as is embarrassingly true of many of the Nobel Prize winners when they are not American or English. Recently I resolved to read at least one book of each of these writers as long as they write novels. Having read Desert, I understand why he was awarded. The book was originally published in French by Editions Gallimard in 1980 and translated into English for release in 2009.

Easily one of the m
Desert nomads' struggle for survival and postcolonial astonishing homecoming, in beautiful prose!

Having grown up in a moderate tropical wet land and immigrated to a moderate filth of metro, I have felt the warm sand and soil, flints of hot stones reflecting light on bare feet, brazier kind of setup in winters, torrential downpours, dust storm of red soil. Once my father got caught in middle of a hailstorm, after our bullocks cart got mangled in the winds. He walked down the last mile to home in
First the confession: I had never heard of Le Clezio until he won the Nobel in 2008, then when I bought the book a few months later, it was not the Noble prize that compelled me, but the picture on the cover of the verbamundi hardcover edition– an enigmatic woman with a blue veil. (the picture, by the way, is by photographer Dan Heller).

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To be lead to this book by a picture is ironic, as the reading of Desert is so much akin of watching a painter drawing and coloring on a canvas. It
This book is beautifully written. The language and descriptions of the desert and its people are stunning. But I felt at a remove from the characters, separated from them as by a wall of clouds. Could this have something to do with the translation? Or was it because there was almost no dialogue, just a monologue by an omniscient narrator who tells us what the characters are doing and what they feel?

I don't know. But it isn't often that I throw in the towel on a book only 10 pages from the end.
Qu'est ce que je pense de ce livre ecrit en 1980 qui est une spiritualite interieure, un chemin personnel dans le monde des annees 80 devenu de plus plus utilitaire et mercantile. L'ecrivain aide par son epouse marocaine, Jemia traverse l'ocean de desert a la recherchew d'un calme interieur qu'une curiosite avive en lui a l'ecoute du bruissement des choses de la terre autour de luiqui suscite, avive et aiguise son interet devant son identite et ce par rapport aux autres.
Le livre est structure co
Monica Carter

Desert by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio is a perfect example of why Le Clézio won the Nobel in 2008, even though he was little known in the United States –sprawling, place specific narratives that bring to life the histories of cultures we do not know and that the world is quickly forgetting. One thing not to expect when you read Desert is a fast-paced narrative that immediately transplants you into another place and time. It does take to another place, but in as low, slightly repetitive pace tha
“In the beginning there were the nomads, men and women whose faces and bodies were tinted blue with indigo and sweat... Those looking for a fast moving plot will be disappointed, but Désert is a beautiful novel full of dreamy prose; a journey, an unromanticised glimpse of life in the Sahara, deep in the desert where only the nomads can live.
The story of Nour is based on true events during the beginning of the 20th century when the sheik Ma El Aïnin, a great leader of the nomads, founded the city
Helena K.
Peut-être dû au fait d’avoir commencé à écrire pendant qu’il était encore enfant, Le Clézio a gardé dans son texte une perspective infantile, chargée d’humanité, simple, pure – une caractéristique qu’il a su transporter à la trajectoire des deux personnages principaux de Désert. Avec près de 100 ans de distance parmi eux, Lalla et Nour partagent leur existence dans le désert, l’expérience de la migration et la rencontre avec une réalité différente de celle qui leur avait été promise. Tandis qu’i ...more
While there was some very good prose and a very good story concept, this book, for me, was disjointed and, largely, overwritten.

The idea of showing an inherited untamed spirit of the last North African desert tribes to hold out against the "Christian invaders" is a good one. Unfortunately, the stories of past and present, through much of the novel, are only tenuously connected. I like that the author has chosen a woman to embody this spirit.

The freedom accorded to Lalla as a young teenager is no
It so often seems that all late 20th Century French literature lies in the shadow of Proust. Duras, Sollers, Simon, and apparently Monsieur Le Clézio as well. The style is so persistently rapturous, so caught up in breathless reverie and dazzling impressionism, that it might take a while for a "story" to appear. That's fine by me.

Desert is absolutely gorgeous, there's no doubt about that. And I found myself really liking Lalla as a protagonist. OK, she's the sort of existentialist heroine who yo
Jesse K
Desert was an amazing book. It was published 7 years after the Giants, but it seems like it was written 40 years later by an entirely different man. Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Le Clezio still employs alot of the same tricks like long descriptions of people walking and minute objects. While his other books made me go "holy f$%!", the Desert actually managed to effect me emotionally by placing those tricks around a more, well-in comparison more, plot driven narrative. The first 7 of hi ...more
Ben Winch
I struggled through about half of this because I was traveling and didn't have anything else to read, but I found it absolutely flat, opaque and affectless. Wondering if I'd missed something through lack of attention, when I got back to Australia I gave it to my dad to read, and his response was the same, despite his tastes being fairly different to mine. This just seems a clear case of overreach: Le Clezio doesn't have the requisite empathy with his (mostly black, African, poor) characters and ...more
Read this book in French. Not an easy read, I must say. The writing style is rather poetical, with lots of elements typical for magical realism. The perspective goes back and forth between 1910 (a little boy Nour and his family on the run for French colonial troops in the Moroccan desert) and the present (the girl Lalla, living in a shantytown on the Moroccan coast). There are a lot of connections between the two characters (they even seem related), but the most important connecting element is t ...more
Two linked stories about tradition and progress and what we as a civilisation have come to sacrifice to get where we are.
Beginning of the twentieth century, Nour, one of the last of a disappearing tribe who have to start a migration through the desert to find their homeland.
Lalla, the descendant of that now disappeared tribe, who has to take her own journey to find what's lacking in her life.

Prose which should be read as poetry, through the senses. I think that if you try to read this novel in
Suraj Alva
Was reading this book in French and not a translation, got to page 70 and couldn't take it anymore. It is too effing repetitive, the author just labors on and on and on and on, on unnecessary and redundant details; so much so that you feel as if he got his money per the number of pages he wrote. Trust me, the feeling that you get that the author is just wasting words is not because of the translation {if you are reading a translated version}, but is the essence of the work {in its original langu ...more
James F
This novel alternates two stories -- one concerns the French conquest of North Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, seen from the perspective of a young desert nomad named Nour, and the other concerns the life of a young girl named Lalla, from approximately the present day, who is apparently a descendant of the refugees of that time.

I am glad I persevered with Le Clezio, because this was definitely a very good novel. It did have some weaknesses: it was somewhat too religious for my taste
Grady Ormsby
Desert by French-Mauritian writer J.M.G LeClezio is a dual narrative told in alternating chapters. Set in 1909 the first story is of Nour, a young Taureg man, who joins his fellow tribesmen, the Blue Men, as they are forced by French colonial invaders to flee across the desert from their traditional land. They follow Ma al-Ainne, their political and religious leader in a vain search for a land in which they can again be free. It’s a harsh reminder of the greed, cruelty and contempt of colonial ...more
Czarny Pies
The Desert is a well-intentioned if somewhat insincere novel about the relation of France with its North African colonies and the people who live in them. The Desert tells two stories in tandem. The first story is about the suppression of a revolt in Morocco in the period from 1910 to 1912 which illustrates how France imposed its rule on the North Africans. The second story which is about the troubles encountered by a Moroccan girl when she moves to France in the 1940 addresses the issue of how ...more
I am perplexed by Le Clezio's "Desert"; it is so beautifully written that it actually becomes mesmerizing. Such mastery of language in the most classical sense... I could not help sensing some strong Proustian affinities!
Yet, I also felt the book was so strangely empty; the thought dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, Le Clezio engineered that emptiness to reflect the vast empty horizon of the desert itself.
I took quite a long time to read this book. Not that the writing is that difficult to read, but the author doesn't exactly narrate a lot of action. There's 80% of thoughts and descriptions in general in this book.
The first thing that I loved about it was the setting of the story. Even in my bed, no sound around the house, I could feel the wind, the sun on my skin. I've definitely been transported by it.
Two stories are assembled, but as there's not a lot of action, and as the characters are rea
Hace mucho, mucho tiempo, que no leía algo que tuviera un manejo de lenguaje tan potente y estremecedor como lo que escribe JMG Le Clézio. Sin demasiados problemas, uno puede respirar la atmósfera, sentir, vivir el desierto en cada página, las angustias de los personajes. Sensaciones arenosas garantizadas -en el mejor de los sentidos-.
I Am
ცოტა ძნელად წასაკითხია, და გაწელილიც, მაგრამ მაგარი ის არის რომ წიგნის გადაშლისთანავე შენც უდაბნოში აღმჩნდები, გრძნობ იქაურ სიცხეს, ქვიშიან ქარებს, უდაბნს ხმაურს(რომელიც საცრად არის აღწერილი) და უდაბნოს თავისუფლებას, ასევე ლოდინს ყოველდღე, რომელსაც მოცული აქვს იქაურობა. ძალიან ინფორმაციული წიგნია, მოკლედ ღირს წაკითხვად.
Aaron Cance
A handsomely written, sprawling epic that chronicles the slow death of a North African culture. Le Clézio's prose reminded me, a great deal of that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, i.e. you won't rip through it quickly, but why would you want to when the journey is this moving.
Ilyhana Kennedy
This is an exceptional literary work. I read it as a translation into English and could only imagine the pleasure of reading it in the original French.
It is total immersion in the natural environment of the desert of Africa, exquisite prose.
Even when it takes a short diversion into the city of Marseilles, it is still about immersion in the sound, the feel, the light, what is seen.
The history of early 20th century in north Africa is largely unknown to people educated in Australia, and so I was fa
L'ouvrage de Le Clézio se compose de deux récits. L'un se déroule dans le désert. Il évoque la migration des hommes bleus. Le désert reste pour eux "le seul, le dernier pays libre oú les lois d'hommes n'avaient plus d'importance". Le héros de ce récit doit être nour, l'adolescent qui a reçu la bénédiction du saint homme appelé l'eau des yeux ou maa' elaynin.
Le second récit se situe au maghreb puis à marseille. Lalla est l'héroïne maintenant.elle refuse toutes les compromissions dans lesquelles o
Millicent Vetterlein
A Nobel winner for Literature, this is a beautiful translation of a book written in France in 1980.

The exquisite prose provides a magic carpet to North Africa in the 1900's about to experience further colonization, partitioning and war. You are absolutely there with all your senses.

I also found this slice of history a very timely read.The quest for safety,identity and a homeland is little changed today across the same sweep of desert and this book helped me understand the power of tribe and t
Fern Chong
Beautifully written, like a landscape painting. Desert thoughtfully juxtaposes the journeys of two protagonists from different times in two parallel stories. Clezio's words cleverly intertwine his characters' emotions to their surrounding environment allowing the reader to follow the protagonists' emotional and physical journey throughout the story. A profound story written with simple words... a must read !!

Quote: "Does time exist when a few minutes are enough to kill a thousand men, a thousan
The Attraction of Nomad Life: Desert by J.-M. G. Le Clézio

Abridged version of my review posted on Edith’s Miscellany on 14 March 2014

For Europeans the desert is an intriguing place, comparable only to the High Seas, the Polar Regions and Outer Space. The Nobel laureate in literature of 2008, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, dedicated one of his novel to the magic of the desert. The impressive scenes of Desert are Morocco or Western Sahara and Marseille, France, alternately in 1909/10 and in moder
In 2008, J.M.G. Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize. Le Désert was subsequently translated into 23 languages, and became a best-seller around the world. I decided to add this book to my list of Middle Eastern literature as one of the very few written by an author who is not from the Middle East not because of the accolades it and its writer have received, but because of the dream-like quality of his descriptions reminiscent of the Sahara.

Le Clézio weaves together the stories of Nour, a Berber boy, who
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Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, better known as J.M.G. Le Clézio (born 13 April 1940) is a Franco-Mauritian novelist. The author of over forty works, he was awarded the 1963 Prix Renaudot for his novel Le Procès-Verbal (The Interrogation) and the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature.
More about Jean-Marie G. Le Clézio...
Wandering Star The Prospector The Interrogation Onitsha El Africano

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“Out there, in the open desert, men can walk for days without passing a single house, seeing a well, for the desert is so vast that no one can know it all. Men go out into the desert, and they are like ships at sea; no one knows when they will return. Sometimes there are storms, but nothing like here, terrible storms, and the wind tears up the sand and throws it high into the sky, and the men are lost. They die, drowned in the sand, they die lost like ships in a storm, and the sand retains their bodies. Everything is so different in that land; the sun isn't the same as it is here, it burns hotter, and there are men that come back blinded, their faces burned. Nights, the cold makes men who are lost scream out in pain, the cold breaks their bones. Even the men aren't the same as they are here...they are cruel, they stalk their pray like foxes, drawing silently near. They are black, like the Hartani, dressed in blue, faces veiled. They aren't men, but djinns, children of the devil, and they deal with the devil; they are like sorcerers... ” 5 likes
“It was as if there were no names here, as if there were no words. The desert cleansed everything in its wind, wiped everything away. The men had the freedom of the open spaces in their eyes, their skin was like metal. Sunlight blazed everywhere. The ochre, yellow, gray, white sand, the fine sand shifted, showing the direction of the wind. It covered all traces, all bones. It repelled light, drove away water, life, far from a center that no one could recognize. The men knew perfectly well that the desert wanted nothing to do with them: so they walked on without stopping, following the paths that other feet had already traveled in search of something else.” 4 likes
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