By Ardain Isma
If the novel is the synthesis between the imaginary and the real, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s writing represents the perfect example of this altruism, for when it comes to show-and-tell a story with raw descriptions and gut-wrenching tales, few writers could do it with such meticulous eloquence than Le Clezio, and Wandering Star is a vivid example to this awesome fact.
Wandering Star is the emotional story of a young Jewish girl who grows up in the middle of the Nazi dominated central Europe and becomes victim through the death of her father and the plight of European Jews fleeing Nazi concentration camps and the gas chambers. Wandering Star is also a story of resistance to the Nazi onslaught as well as a story of hope and remembrance. Behind the despicable suffering inflicted upon the Jewish population, Le Clezio carefully manages his pen to brilliantly demonstrate that even in the darkest of times, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Esther, the name of the Jewish girl, spends her entire young adulthood dwelling on her forced and unwilling departure from the land of her birth, even when it becomes clear that staying and living under Nazi occupation would mean facing certain death. But this is the only place she’s ever known, and leaving it for the unknown is totally unacceptable for a young girl who has yet to understand the complex problems of life—the vicissitudes of disenfranchised people, the ever presence of humiliation for those who live in the fringe of society, and all other nightmarish elements “casting disturbing shadows everywhere.” (page 84)
Then comes the breathtaking escape to freedom behind the mountains ahead of the Germans’ advance. Esther feels trapped in the bewilderment of her escape with her mother, who until now refuses to tell her that her father will never join them for he is already dead. Although crippled by fear of uncertainty, Esther knows there is no turning back. She slowly grows pessimistically optimistic, betting her hope on Jerusalem, the Promise Land that all escapees must reach to grab the eternal salvation. So Esther “climbs [the mountain] without looking back, pulling herself up with the aid of the shrubs…..[with] her heart pounding heavily inside her chest [while] drops of sweats dampening the back of her dress, stinging her underarms.” (page 115)
Escaping through the mountains was just the beginning of an arduous, grueling and extremely challenging passage to a distant land—the land of Israel. Esther finds herself pinned down in the belly of a crammed boat being pounded on all directions by stormy weather. But Le Clezio holds his pen firmly and takes the boat to Jerusalem right under the noses of occupying British soldiers to land the passengers on Israel Independence Day.
But Wandering Star would have been clumsily incomplete if it weren’t for the Story of a Palestinian girl named Nejma, who, just like Esther in Europe, becomes the symbol of Palestinian misery as a result of the birth of Israel. Nejma’s story is being recounted through the prism of thousands of her fellow Palestinians’ predicament, being forced to abandon their villages and towns to seek refuge behind the United Nations barbed wires, living in dehumanizing conditions in the middle of a desert plagued by diseases.
Nejma’s story is the story of thousands of Arabs being killed and buried in shallow graves and being eating by stray dogs. It is the story of a deprived people left to fend for themselves. “Arabs soldiers in tatters, heads bleeding, legs wrapped in rags that serve a bandages, unarmed, their faces sunken with hunger and thirst, some of them no more than children whom exhaustion and the war had already turned them into men.” (page 201)
Le Clezio here has to walk a thin blue line. One can’t speak about the deliverance of the Israelis without an acknowledgment of the plight of the Palestinians. This mere fact constitutes an awkward paradox. The Promise Land will never live up to its name as long as the Palestinians continue to wallow in abject misery, 60 years later—an assertion recognized by millions of Israeli Jews as they demand the Israeli government to take steps to allow the creation of a Palestinian independent state in both Gaza and the West Bank of the Jordan River.
But despite the meticulousness being used here to deliver a manuscript free of biasness and partiality, something, at least to me, is missing. To the very end, I was still hoping for an encounter between Esther and Nejma. It didn’t happen, which would have symbolized the perfect understanding needed for Jews and Arabs to live in peace and mutual respect.
In all, Wandering Star is truly a book to read.
Note: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is a distinguished, world-renowned writer with more than 30 novels under his belts. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008. C. Dickson translated the book into English. The book was published by Connecticut based Curbstone Press. It is available almost everywhere, especially in all online bookstores. One can also visit the publisher’s website: www.curbstone.org for more info.
Note: Dr. Ardain Isma teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com
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