“Hazaran” is the sixth short story in the collection Mondo and Other Stories, published in 1978, but whose genesis, according to Le Clézio himself, extended over a fairly long period. This genesis coincides with that of L’Inconnu sur la terre, published the same year, the back cover of which emphasizes its proximity to Mondo. Moreover, these two paired texts are part of a larger cycle, devoted to the Amerindian universe, and punctuated, before Mondo, by Haï (1971), Les Prophéties du Chilam Balam (1976), and then, by Trois Villes saintes (1980), Relation de Michoacán (1984) and Le Rêve mexicain (1988). The Amerindian universe is explicitly present in this collection through the short story “The People of the Sky,” but Le Clézio, more generally, is insistent about this affinity in his interview with Pierre Boncenne in New Mexico in 1978, just after the publication of Mondo, and which I will therefore solicit as a paratext. Le Clézio evokes Amerindian culture, its “complete harmony” with nature and its “magical language,” to the point of making man “transparent,” but he also insists on what separates him from this universe, to the point of regretting ever being there: “I really don’t know how fragile this universe is, how easily it can be destroyed. And it will be destroyed ...” (“J.M.G. Le Clézio s’explique,” p. 49). Everything happens as if the Amerindian world, with the figure of the shaman and their “healing art” (Thibault, 2009), opposed to urban civilization, had become a lost, ghostly model.
“Hazaran” does not specifically belong to the Amerindian universe, but it is also based on the founding opposition, in Le Clézio’s works, between the Western world and an “Other” world, oriented towards nature and myth. The story takes place at “the Digue des Français” in what is probably a Mediterranean city (Nice) where a diverse migratory population has taken refuge (M, 191). It is within these margins that Le Clézio will be the bearer of a counter-discourse that gives different characters a voice.
The most important character, in this perspective, is Martin, who lives on the edges of La Digue, “at the end of the marsh, where the pebbles of the beach begin,” and he lives there in a “circular hut” with no other opening than a low door (M, 193), which opens in a significant way to a natural space, composed of earth, reeds and blue sky (M, 213). In addition, Martin is animated by a desire for transcendence, he practices religious rites, such as fasting, and delivers a “teaching” (M, 202). When the community of La Digue is evicted by the authorities, Martin guides it to the other side in what appears to be a rewriting of the crossing of the Red Sea, but without a promised land: on the other side, “not a light did shine” (M, 217).
These elements tend to present Martin as an authority figure, a wise or Oriental master whose gaze is full “of a strange force, as if he really projects light” (M, 216). At the same time, he is marked by a certain fragility, by a trembling: concurrently old and young (M, 192), he may be taken for the collection “children fairies,” in the presentation on the back cover of the original edition; moreover, in that of the “Folio” edition, his name is even omitted and the character is consequently obscured by Alia, the young girl who is fascinated listening to him (François Marotin) – condition which is actually illustrated by the title itself of the short story.
This character has a double restorative function. On the one hand, he repairs “little things” (a watch, a gas lamp, etc.) in the shanty town of La Digue, and his hands are the subject of a meticulous description: “He had large hands blackened by the sun, with nails broken like the diggers and masons, but lighter and skillful, which know how to tie knots with tiny threads and turn nuts that you could hardly see” (M, 196).
Martin’s activity does not lie in solid construction, but within the metaphorical register of weaving, with all that this implies in terms of fragility. On the other hand, Martin is a storyteller and he multiplies (bits of) fables when addressing children, especially Alia whom he calls “moon” (p. 195). The story of Hazaran, which gives the title to the short story, recounts the voyage of petite Trèfle to a country whose king is a nightingale, after being initiated by the scarab Kepr, borrowed from the Book of the Dead in Egyptian mythology (François Marotin), and the great green grasshopper. This fable allows Alia, who is, like petite Trèfle, an orphan, to escape into her imagination and to find an anchor, a community, thus overcoming her social marginality.
“Hazaran” thus allows us to perceive a shamanic figure just beneath the surface, but translates it in a rhapsodic way, and the short story can therefore be read like a string of little fables. Martin seems very close to the ethos of Le Clézio himself who confessed to Pierre Boncenne his fascination for the cult of Orpheus, while declaring himself to be a “simple producer-craftsman”: he performs, Le Clézio tells us, a similar craft to the one who produces crates of tomatoes (“JMG Le Clézio s’explique,” p. 49). Or, in the words of Josyane Savigneau: “A writer is someone who has the quirks of a small craftsman, a jewelry maker” (“Se refuser à tout ce qui sclérose”).
Translated by Keith Moser
GLAZIOU, Joël, « Dans la marge… des forces en marche. Portraits de quelques marginaux dans l’œuvre de Le Clézio », Recherches sur l’imaginaire, 29, (2003), p. 221-228 ; LE CLÉZIO, J.M. G, Mondo et autres histoires, Paris, Gallimard, 1978 (reedition in the collection « Folio », 1982) ; « J.M.G. Le Clézio s’explique ». Entretien avec Pierre BONCENNE, Lire, 32, (avril 1978), p. 20-49 ; « Se refuser à tout ce qui sclérose », Entretien avec Josyane SAVIGNEAU, Le Monde du 15 février 1985 ; Ailleurs. Entretiens avec Jean-Louis ÉZINE, Arléa, 1995 ; MAROTIN, François, Mondo et autres histoires de J.M.G.Le Clézio, Paris, Gallimard, 1995 ; THIBAULT, Bruno, J.M.G. Le Clézio et la métaphore exotique, Amsterdam-New York, Rodopi, 2009 ; TRITSMANS, Bruno, « Savoir du monde et artisanat », Europe, 957-958, (January-February 2009), p. 129-138.