French-Mauritian writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was born on April 13, 1940 in Nice. As a child, he moved to Nigeria where his father was serving in the British army. His father was from Mauritius, an island that flipped control between France and England, but the residents were allowed to maintain a distinctly French culture (it’s now an independent nation). Le Clézio has seldom lived there, but he maintains dual citizenship and considers himself to be equally French and Mauritian.
His studies were just as international. Le Clézio started his degree at the University of Bristol, England, and finished back in his birthtown at Nice’s Institut d’études littéraires. He remained in the sunny south for his master’s degree from the University of Provence, followed several years later by a doctorate from the University of Perpignan.
The international theme continued to be the hallmark of his life. Le Clézio worked in the United States as a teacher. He started his French military service in Thailand, but was packed off to Mexico when he was kicked out of Thailand for his participation in protests against child prostitution. In the early 70s, he lived with the Embera-Wounaan tribe in Panama. His wife is Moroccan and they divide their time between homes in New Mexico, Mauritius, and Nice. Recently, he had a gig teaching French language and literature in Seoul, South Korea.
Le Clézio’s work reflects his varied life experience. His very first novel, Le Procès-verbal (luh proseh varebahl) won a major prize and was short-listed for a second. He was only 23. His literary output is as varied as his travels and includes novels, short stories, essays, translations of Native American mythology, and children’s books. His themes are just as wide-ranging: childhood and adolescence, insanity, semantics, traveling, and the act of writing itself. Big success came again with his novel Désert, which was awarded the Grand Prix Paul Morand by the Académie Française. The latest accolade was the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Le Clézio’s first book, Le Procès-verbal, is known as The Interrogation in English. Le Procès-verbal is a phrase that has various meanings depending upon the context. The most common translation is “a ticket” or “a fine.” It can also be used in a non-legal context to refer to official minutes of a proceding. While the translation of the title may be a bit off, Le Clézio’s talent is right on. Many consider him to be the greatest living French writer.
- Off the Shelf: Mondo and Other Stories by J. M. G. Le Clézio (nebraskapress.typepad.com)