Anna Bálint Reviews Wandering Star by J.M. G. Le Clézio
Wandering star by j.m. g. le clézio, a review by anna bálint.
Note: This review is reprinted from Raven Chronicles, A Journal of Art, Literature & The Spoken Word, Vol. 14, No. 2, Architecture in Literature , 2009. This book was originally published by Curbstone Press in 2004.
Set against the backdrop of WW2 and the founding of the state of Israel, Wandering Star is a remarkable novel. Written with deep compassion and in sumptuous language, it encompasses the stories and viewpoints of two adolescent girls: Esther, who is Jewish, and Nejma, who is Palestinian. It is also a story about the land, the earth on which we live, and the ways in which landscapes and the natural world are a part of human identity, both who we are and who we become. “Does the sun not shine for us all?” the novel asks.
None of this is presented simplistically. There are no neat parallel stories, no back and forth chapters, or a book divided into halves, one for Esther, the other for Nejma. A master storyteller, Le Clézio’s structure is both more subtle and complex than that, with Nejma’s story literally imbedded within Esther’s, breaking it open at a critical point, and ultimately changing it.
Esther is the wandering star of the title, and when the novel begins, in the summer of 1943, she is thirteen years old and living with her parents in a mountain village in the south of Nazi occupied France. While German troops have yet to march into Esther’s village, Italian troops are stationed there, and there are daily identity checks for Jews, many of whom are refugees from Poland, and other occupied countries. Yet despite a sense of growing danger and things brewing beneath the surface, there is also an almost dreamy quality to this early part of the novel, as if “…there had never been a summer before that one.” Surrounded by the beauty of the mountains with a river rushing down its slopes, Esther climbs and explores the hillsides, tries to make sense of the changing world, and her own adolescent longings. The third person narrative both shadows Esther, looking out at her world through her eyes, while also watching her scramble through the grass, so that at times she almost becomes a part of the landscape. This is omnipresent, and described in ways that are lush, and life affirming. “The sunlight, the sky in which all the clouds were just beginning to swell, and the vast grassy fields where the flies and bees hung suspended in the light, the somber walls of the mountains and the forests, all of that would go on and on.”
Here then, El Clézio gives us two stories of displacement, of war and exile, the one arising out of and contained by the other. In the end it is a single story.
But when German troops do arrive in the village, Esther’s life unravels, literally overnight. Her father disappears into the hills as part of the Resistance, and she and her mother flee into the mountains along with most of the local population of Jews. Even the peaks and clouds she so loves takes on an ominous cast during the long perilous trek. Life becomes one of hiding and hunger, and a longing for safety. By the war’s end, the world she once knew has vanished. There is no one to go back to, and so much to forget. Across the water the promise of Israel, of a new beginning in a Jewish state shines, like a beacon of hope.
Le Clézio switches back and forth from third to first person and back again several times during this novel, allowing the reader to sometimes times pull back a little ways from his main characters—though never far—and at other times closing the gap altogether, and taking us right inside their heads and inner lives, to look out at the world through their eyes. This latter is done to great effect as Esther prepares to embark on her journey to Israel, and we are privy to the inner turmoil she experiences as she huddles with other Jewish refugees on a cold beach “like animals gone astray in a tempest.” The journey involves hiding in the hulls of boats, capture, imprisonment, and having to wait and hope all over again. “How many doors will we go through?” she asks. “Each time we crest the horizon, it will be like another door.”
Through all of this, the natural world and rawness of the elements to which Esther is exposed literally bombard us with contradictory images. “The sea is a blinding blue” and “painful to look at.” The sun burns, the wind whips, the sea churns. And yet, “the sea is so beautiful with its slow swell coming from the other side of the world.” In this way, Le Clézio creates a powerful mood of both Esther’s anticipation and anxiety. He returns again and again to important moments in Esther’s life, replaying them as she replays them inside her head, though never in ways that halts the story. The city of Jerusalem takes on mythical proportions. “To keep from losing hope, to resist the cold wind, the weariness, we must think about the city that is like a mirage, the city of minarets and domes shining in the sun, the dream city made out of stone hovering over the desert. In that city we can surely forget.”
But Esther, barely arrived in the newly declared state of Israel, is on the road to Jerusalem, when into strange arid landscape appears a straggle of refugees. They are Arabs, displaced Palestinians. One of them is Nejma. And there on the dusty road a brief but unforgettable encounter takes place between the two young women. Almost immediately the entire trajectory of the novel shifts, and becomes Nejma’s story.
Now it is Nejma who speaks to us, directly, poignantly, from her vantage point of life in a refugee camp. “… Every morning the sun would rise over a land that gradually grew more bitter, red, scorched, with wispy thorn bushes and those acacias incapable of providing shade…” Here Le Clézio’s repeated images of dust, hard earth, and unrelenting heat create a sense of alienation; of a place that is completely inhospitable. “The Nous Chams Camp is undoubtedly at the very end of the world,” Nejma tells us. “Because it seems to me that beyond this point there can be nothing else, there is no hope left.” The camp itself is made up of endless rows of “houses of planks and cardboard” “torn tents” and “makeshift shelters.”
Nejma’s story picks its way through this landscape as all around her things deteriorate further and further, where “little by little, even the children stopped running and shouting and fighting around the camp. Now they stayed near the shacks, sitting listlessly in the shade on the dusty ground, half-starved and looking like dogs, shifting positions according to the movement of the sun.” In contrast to this sparseness, and the sense of nothing much happening, there is the ever-present ache in Nejma’s heart, which is immense. Like Esther, she has been completely uprooted from the life she once knew. “We’ve been prisoners in this camp for such a long time. It’s difficult for me to recall what it was like before, in Akka. The sea, the smell of the sea, the cry of the gulls. The fishing boats slipping across the bay at dawn. The call to prayer at dusk, in the twilight, as I walked through the olive groves by the ramparts. Birds flew up, last turtle doves, silver winged pigeons suddenly crossing the sky … I’ve lost all of that now.”
Eventually Le Clézio returns us to Esther’s life and narrative, except it is now haunted by Nejma, both for the reader and for Esther herself. Years pass. Esther’s life in Israel, a country often at war, is not easy. The direction of her life was forever altered by WW2 and the holocaust, and continues to be shaped by war. In a sense she never stops wandering, and there is much she can never forget, including Nejma, “my sister” who sometimes comes to Esther in dreams, “from exile, from forgotten drought ridden lands, alone, to observe me.”
Here then, El Clézio gives us two stories of displacement, of war and exile, the one arising out of and contained by the other. In the end it is a single story. By beautifully mirroring the complexity of history Wandering Star rises above politics, religion, and culture to speak to our common humanity. In so doing, it also sheds light on one of the most burning issues of our day: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Anna Bálint is a London-born, Seattle-based poet, writer, editor and teacher of East European descent. Her most recent editorial work is the anthology Take a Stand, Art Against Hate (Raven Chronicles Press, 2020). Her story collection Horse Thief (Curbstone Press, 2004), was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Book Award, and her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. Two earlier books of poetry were Out of the Box and spread them crimson sleeves like wings . An alumna of Hedgebrook’s Writers in Residence Program and the Jack Straw Writers Program, Anna has also taught creative writing for many years and in many places, including Washington State Prisons, El Centro de la Raza, Writers in the Schools, Antioch University, Richard Hugo House, and Path with Art (all in Seattle). In 2001, she received a Leading Voice Award in recognition of her creative work with urban and immigrant youth at El Centro de la Raza. Currently she is a teaching artist at Recovery Café where, in 2012, she founded Safe Place Writing Circle for people in recovery from trauma, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.
Wandering Star J.M. G. Le Clézio, Translated by C. Dickenson
Northwestern University Press https://nupress.northwestern.edu/9781931896566/wandering-star/
2009, paperback, 328 pages, 5.50x8.50 inches, $17.95
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A Nobel laureate on the birth of a nation
T here is a grim timeliness in the republication of Wandering Star coinciding with Israel's military offensive in Gaza. Le Clézio's novel is a moving account of the intersecting destinies of two teenage girls following the proclamation of the state of Israel: Esther, a Holocaust survivor and immigrant to the new Jewish state, and Njema, a Palestinian who is displaced by the partition of her homeland. The desperate battle for this territory is described by a young Israeli soldier in the novel as the last war, the war that will secure the Jews' possession of Eretz Yisrael. But Jewish settlement entails Palestinian expulsion and 60 years later the war continues.
Wandering Star belongs to Le Clézio's second phase as a writer, when he embraced relatively conventional modes of storytelling complete with familiar devices such as characters, settings and plots. As a younger man he had renounced such devices. In 1963, at the age of 23, the glamorous Franco-Mauritian intellectual shot to fame with his anti-novelistic Renaudot prize winner, Le Procès-verbal, and he continued to publish experimental works into the 1970s.
English translations of several of these have been reissued in paperback since Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year - from Vintage, Simon Watson Taylor's translations The Book of Flights, The Giants and War; and from Penguin The Interrogation, The Flood, Terra Amata and the story collection Fever. These are strange books, not so much coherent narratives as eruptions of consciousness, hyper-detailed registers of the phenomena of modern life intertwined with existential meditations. They have an air of science fiction or modernist allegory: dystopian fantasies about war, power, money and sex permeated with hatred and violence. Narrators return obsessively to questions about the human condition. Why are destruction and suffering ubiquitous? Can freedom or happiness ever be possible? But the only answers are pessimistic: "The war is everywhere." "Nobody will survive unscathed."
This message provides a link between Wandering Star and Le Clézio's earlier works. The novel's dedication - "To the captured children" - reflects a concern with those caught up in conflict and in following the twin histories of Esther and Njema, Le Clézio returns to the problem of innocent victims he raised in War: "Is there - and this is the question, the real question - is there one girl, just one, whether she be called Bea or Eva or Djema, who has not experienced the war?"
Wandering Star covers almost 40 years (1943-1982) and ranges from Europe to the Middle East to Canada and back again. By far the longest part is devoted to Esther's experiences before escaping to Israel, first in the French alpine village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie under the relatively benign occupation of the Fourth Italian Army and then, following the Italian surrender and withdrawal, her flight across the mountains into Italy.
Esther's responsiveness to the beauty of the landscape is bound up with her sexual awakening under the competing attentions of two boys. The resulting narrative is highly charged with phenomenological and metaphysical awareness, sometimes to the point of overkill.
Having said that, one of the most powerful qualities of the novel is the sense Le Clézio creates of the human connection to place and the anguish of exile and dispossession. "Does not the sun shine for us all?" asks one of the refugees in the novel. "Does not the land belong to everyone?" Persecuted European Jews like Esther are sustained in their ordeal by the Hebrew Book of the Beginning with its promise of a covenanted land, but in Palestinian mythology the same landscape is their God-given paradise.
In chronicling the parallel sufferings of Jews and Arabs, Le Clézio gives us a sadly topical retelling of what he calls elsewhere "the greatest, most ancient of all quests: of a habitat".
- The Observer
A Zodiac Novel
By Romina Russell
Part of zodiac, category: teen & young adult fiction | teen & young adult science fiction | teen & young adult fantasy fiction | teen & young adult romance, category: teen & young adult fiction | teen & young adult science fiction | teen & young adult romance | teen & young adult fantasy fiction.
Oct 25, 2016 | ISBN 9781595147448 | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 --> | Young Adult | ISBN 9781595147448 --> Buy
Dec 08, 2015 | ISBN 9780698146150 | Young Adult | ISBN 9780698146150 --> Buy
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About Wandering Star
Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn. But news has spread that the Marad–a group of unbalanced Risers determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment. Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight. Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined. And just when Rho has started to come to terms with the pain of losing Mathias, the stars deliver their most shocking surprise yet.
A breathtaking sci-fi space saga inspired by astrology that will stun fans of the Illuminae Files and Starbound series. Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn. But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment. Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight. Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.
Also in Zodiac
About Romina Russell
New York Times bestselling author Romina Russell originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core. Follow her on Twitter @RominaRussell and visit… More about Romina Russell
Category: teen & young adult fiction | teen & young adult science fiction | teen & young adult fantasy fiction | teen & young adult romance, category: teen & young adult fiction | teen & young adult science fiction | teen & young adult romance | teen & young adult fantasy fiction, you may also like.
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PRAISE for WANDERING STAR : “Russell’s excellent writing has only gotten better: her descriptions are deep and lush, her heroes fully formed and sympathetic.” — Booklist “A thematically powerful ride.” — Kirkus PRAISE for ZODIAC : “ZODIAC is a thrilling YA fantasy for astrology lovers and sci-fi fans alike… You’ll want to learn even more about your own sign after this one.” — Teen Vogue “With a stellar cast, fascinating mythology, and unexpected twists and turns, ZODIAC is a must read. I am a fan!” —Morgan Rhodes, New York Times bestselling author of the Falling Kingdoms series “Russell’s debut novel is rich with details of a society that is equal parts hard science and free-flowing faith, making it a great read for fans of both epic fantasy and sf. Fans of the immersive world of Zodiac will be happy to know that this is just the first in a series.” — Booklist “Russell’s narrative mixes intrigue, romance, and adventure, and a constant underlying tension drives Rho and her allies from one planet to the next.” — Publishers Weekly “The worldbuilding is a science fiction delight, with tons of details about space and science…Recommend this to sci-fi and adventure lovers. It has a bit of something for everyone.” — VOYA “A sci-fi refreshing for both its nondystopian plot and fallible heroine.” — Kirkus
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Whether you're looking for a gift for your bookish Valentine or something to stimulate your mind, this month's book releases will not disappoint. Here are a few books to look forward to reading this February.
'Fourteen Days' by The Authors Guild, edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston (Feb. 6)
In what sounds like a bibliophile's dream group project, 36 writers gathered to collaborate on what The Guardian called "a spirited Decameron-style collection of shaggy dog stories and tales of lost love." Set in a Lower East Side apartment building at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, a cast of neighbors trade stories to pass the time.
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Helmed by editors Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston, the contributors list is a who's who of the literary elite, including John Grisham, Celeste Ng, R.L. Stine, Tommy Orange and the editors themselves. The shorts are "both anonymous and not", The Guardian explained, "a list at the end of the book will tell you who wrote what, but within the text itself, you will have no idea." "Fourteen Days" is an "immensely enjoyable product of an immensely unenjoyable time," the outlet added. It is "lively, freewheeling and, with its skillfully paced denouement," The Guardian noted, "an impressive achievement." Preorder here .
'Alphabetical Diaries' by Sheila Heti (Feb. 6)
Continuing in the vein of literary experiments, with "Alphabetical Diaries" Canadian author Sheila Heti deeply delves into a decade's worth of her personal journals, weaving them together in alphabetized sentences. Heti started the project in 2014 in the hopes of rediscovering herself. She poured 500,000 words from her journals into an Excel spreadsheet, and the resulting list morphed into her forthcoming project.
"With the sentences untethered from narrative, I started to see the self in a new way: as something quite solid, anchored by shockingly few characteristic preoccupations," Heti told The New York Times in 2022. Whether it is "considered a memoir or something else entirely," Time mused, Heti's latest "looks at how we see ourselves and how we'd like to be seen." Preorder here .
'Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey Among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See' by Bianca Bosker (Feb. 6)
Award-winning journalist and The Atlantic contributor Bianca Bosker returns seven years after she released "Cork Dork," a deep dive into the wine business, with another gripping investigation, this time into the world of fine art. For "Get the Picture," Bosker spent years semi-undercover with "the 1% of cultural capital, in swanky Chelsea galleries and drug-fueled VIP rooms at Miami's Art Basel," The Washington Post explained. "Her goal is to figure out why contemporary art attracts so much money, status and (occasionally) talent." She spent years doing grunt work in entry-level jobs in galleries and artists' studios, "so she could vividly capture the new class hierarchies in American culture and the subtle cues that mark cultural distinction," the outlet noted.
This book has appeal for art enthusiasts and also the less informed. "Connoisseurs and neophytes alike will be charmed and captivated by Bosker's boundless curiosity and astute powers of observation," Publishers Weekly wrote. Preorder here .
'Ours' by Phillip B. Williams (Feb. 20)
Poet Phillip B. Williams's "transcendent" debut novel is "a surreal saga set in the antebellum South that looks at the complex nature of freedom," Time noted. After a conjurer named Saint wreaks havoc on Arkansas plantations, she establishes a safe haven for the formerly enslaved and their families just north of St. Louis. After decades of keeping the evils of the outside world at bay, the people living there "begin to worry that they’re experiencing a different kind of subjugation," the outlet added.
"Ours" is a "gorgeously written, evocative saga of Black American survival and transcendence, blending elements of fantasy, mythology and multigenerational history," per Kirkus Reviews. The story may challenge you to "keep up with worldly and otherworldly happenings." Still, your attention will be anchored by "the rich characterizations and, most of all, the often-startling impact of Williams' poetically illuminated language," Kirkus declared. Preorder here.
'Wandering Stars' by Tommy Orange (Feb. 27)
Tommy Orange follows up his PEN/Hemingway-winning novel "There There" with what Publisher's Weekly described as "a stirring portrait of the fractured but resilient Bear Shield-Red Feather family in the wake of the Oakland powwow shooting that closed out the previous book." During a lecture at the Harvard Art Museums last year, Orange said his new novel would be both "a prequel and a sequel" to his first. Orange uses "incandescent prose and precise insights" to mine "the gaps in his characters' memories and finds meaning in the stories of their lives," Publisher's Weekly added. Preorder here
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Theara Coleman has worked as a staff writer at The Week since September 2022. She frequently writes about technology, education, literature and general news. She was previously a contributing writer and assistant editor at Honeysuckle Magazine, where she covered racial politics and cannabis industry news.
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Wandering Star (Dover Graphic Novels) Hardcover – June 20, 2016
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" Wandering Star is a beautiful story, written years before its time. Space epics were not in vogue when Teri Wood wrote and drew this story. She didn't do it for fame, or money, she did it for love. And, she crafted her story without the influence of today's trendy tropes. That's the perfect combination for timeless fiction. Since its completion, Wandering Star has sat squarely in the company of the most beloved works of fiction, waiting for its time. Thanks to this omnibus, the time is now." — Terry Moore "Simply one of the best sci-fi comics ever written." — Overstreet's Fan Magazine This much-praised space drama follows the far-flung adventures of Casandra, daughter of the President of the United Nations of Earth and the first terran accepted into the Galactic Academy. Casandra discovers to her woe that Earth isn't the most popular of planets and joins the outcasts working on Wandering Star , the Galactic Alliance's prototypical spaceship. When the Bono Kiro, the Alliance's longtime enemy, makes a sudden reappearance, Casandra and her misfit crew just might turn out to be the galaxy's last hope. Sure to delight the legions of fans of the series, this beautiful hardcover edition collects all 21 of the original comics for the first time. "[Wood's] science-fiction series shows her clear vision of story and character — and excellent ability to delineate both." — Comics Buyers Guide "Good science fiction turns on a compelling 'what if'. In this case, it's 'What if the Earth wasn't the center of the civilized universe?'" — Comics Worth Reading "No one should be allowed to write a first book this good. A cross between Anne McCaffrey and Jim Starlin; humanistic yet still plot-oriented." — Cold Cut Distribution "Potent, powerful, uplifting, and painfully realistic, this is a war story that deals with consequences rather than as simple victories and defeats." — Now Read This
About the Author
- Part of Series Wandering Star
- Print length 496 pages
- Language English
- Publisher Dover Publications
- Publication date June 20, 2016
- Dimensions 7 x 2 x 10 inches
- ISBN-10 0486801624
- ISBN-13 978-0486801629
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- Publisher : Dover Publications (June 20, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 496 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0486801624
- ISBN-13 : 978-0486801629
- Item Weight : 4.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 7 x 2 x 10 inches
- #4,923 in Contemporary Women Graphic Novels (Books)
- #14,730 in Fantasy Graphic Novels (Books)
- #16,841 in Science Fiction Graphic Novels (Books)
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Teri S. Wood
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