The prolific Le ClÇzio (The Interrogation, 1963; The Giants, 1975, etc.) offers the second title in the publisher's Verba Mundi series (see Sylvie Germain, p. 1091): an intensely lyrical first- person story of a man's life of disappointment. Near 1892, Alexis L'Etang spends his childhood on Mauritius, which seems to him an Edenic place of tropical forest, open sky, and ocean (``As far back as I can remember I have listened to the sea'') where he lives in virtually blissful happiness with his parents, beloved sister Laure, and good black friend Denis. The expulsion comes about, however, with the father's bankruptcy—his plan to bring electricity to the island is dashed by a great hurricane—and with the steady taking of the island's lush acreage (including the site of the family's house) for conversion into cane fields, this being done by the family's uncle Ludovico, who massively exploits black labor for his ends. With his father's death, Alexis is forced into doing office work for Ludovico's company, but his Eden-charged dreams of the sea, of adventure, and of the hidden treasures of ``the Unknown Corsair''—all having been highly romanticized for the boy by his dreaming and poetic father- -lead him finally to sea and to the doomed treasure-quest that occupies the rest of his story. At a length and lyric pitch sometimes repetitive and even wearing, Le ClÇzio describes, frequently with great beauty but also with a focus that comes and goes, Alexis's sea journey to the island of Rodrigues; his lonely sojourn there, along with his love for the wild and beautiful Ouma; his survival as a WW I soldier; return to Rodrigues; and finally- -without treasure, without Ouma, without his happiness, without Eden—back to what remains of his commerce-scarred childhood home. Often piercingly vivid, and poignant at the close, though patience can be an asset in getting there.
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