A funny guy, this J. M. G. Le Clézio, starting with his name. Though British writers often use a packet of liminal initials, French writers don’t. Can you imagine Sartre calling himself J.-P.? True, Jean-Marie Gustave may be a bit top-heavy, but why not, for instance, just plain Gustave? It was good enough for Flaubert, after all.

But nothing about Le Clézio is like anybody else. Born in 1940 and still active, he has written over forty books of every kind, including some for children. With The Interrogation, at the age of twenty-three, he won the prestigious Prix Renaudot; with Désert, at forty, the French Academy’s Grand Prix Paul Morand; at sixty-eight, for his oeuvre, the Nobel Prize.

Consider next his peculiar ancestry and citizenship. Both his parents’ forebears came from Brittany, a breeder of sturdy stock. In 1798, an...


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