A slim yet resonant autobiographical entry from the Nobel laureate’s early years in West Africa.
Le Clézio’s (Desert, 2009, etc.) memoir of his African youth is thin in length yet rich in detail as he reconciles his experience being spontaneously relocated at 8 with his mother and brother from World War II–era Nice, France, to remote Nigeria. As the only whites in a villages of natives, he describes family life crammed into a rustic homestead with paneless windows and mosquito netting—the best the French government could provide to his father, a military doctor. Even without schooling or sports, the author’s cultural enlightenment becomes an explosion of sensations, from the sun-induced bouts of prickly heat to the naked culture’s immodest “supremacy of the body.” Le Clézio writes of liberating his pent-up frustration from being raised fatherless in dreary, wartime Europe on the African savannah, yet his father, the man he’d reunited with in 1948, emerges as the memoir’s beating heart. Restless after medical school, he’d fled Europe for a two-year medical post in Guyana and two decades in West Africa. The author paints his father as pessimistic, lonely, overly authoritative and staunchly repulsed by colonial power, yet happily married. Sadly defeated by time and circumstance, he’d become a stranger and, once relocated back to France, “an old man out of his element, exiled from his life and his passion for medicine, a survivor.” Only in his lyrically articulated hindsight does the author truly appreciate his father’s good work and a unique, memorable childhood.
A vivid depiction of a splintered childhood and the lovely wholeness procured from it.