(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

During the winter of 1909-1910, a long caravan moves along a harsh valley in the Western Sahara Desert. It comprises people from the south, who seek to escape the war brought by the soldiers—colonial powers engaged in the conquest of Africa. These refugees converge on Smara to seek the protection of Sheik Ma al-Aïnine, Water of the Eyes, founder of the holy city. As more and more tribes join them, their campsites multiply. A boy named Nour, descendant of the legendary al-Azraq, the Blue Man, is among the travelers. The sheik distinguishes Nour in the crowd, intensely gazes upon him, and tells the boy of the spiritual teachings that the sheik once received from the Blue Man.

In the 1970’s, a girl named Lalla lives in a shack outside a city of the Moroccan littoral. She likes to run in the dunes and to observe the creatures that she discovers in the sand, the water, and the sky, as well as the variations of the light, the color of the water, and the direction of the wind. Aamma, the woman who has adopted her, has told Lalla the story of her birth: Her mother, Hawa, came from the country of the Blue warriors to the south. When the time for Lalla’s birth arrived, Hawa leaned against a tree with her arms hanging from a branch. The child was born at dawn.

Aamma’s response is not as explicit when Lalla asks about al-Azraq, the Blue Man of her ancestors, but the girl thinks about him during her solitary walks. She calls him al-Ser, the Secret, and feels his intense gaze upon her. Lalla’s best friend is a young shepherd, Hartani, who lives on the edge of the desert. Hartani knows about scorpions, secret paths in the desert, and light in the caverns. He sees “with his body,” knowing with all his senses. He does not speak the language of humans, but Lalla understands his signs, the expressions on his face, and the shine in his eyes.

Lalla grows up. Aamma pressures her to marry a rich man from the city. The girl chooses freedom; she joins Hartani on the plateau of stones and soon calls...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

Desert Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Amoi, Alba, and Bettina Knapp, eds. Multicultural Writers Since 1945. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Includes a five-page introduction to Le Clézio. A basic but useful introduction because little has been written in English on this author.

Le Clézio, Jean-Marie Gustave. Onitsha. Translated by Alison Anderson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. A semiautobiographical novel that describes the writer’s experiences in Africa as a child.

Moser, Keith A. “Privileged Moments.” In The Novels and Short Stories of J. M. G. Le Clézio: His Contemporary Development of a Traditional French Literary Device. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. A study of lyrical experiences in Le Clézio’s fiction and their relationship to and intervention within traditional French representations of such experiences.