When J.M.G. Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize for Literature last October, he unwittingly became part of an international ruckus. Just the month before, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the prize jury, said the United States was "too isolated, too insular" when it came to literature. That "ignorance," Engdahl said, exists in part because American publishers "don't translate enough" foreign literature. Thus, when Le Clézio, a French author virtually unknown in America, won the Nobel Prize it was taken by some as further evidence of an anti-American bias.
Still, there is validity to some of Engdahl's argument and Le Clézio is an example. Although a few small American presses have published editions of his works in the last 15 or so years, not a lot of his catalog have been translated into English and the most recent translation issued by a major American publisher came more than 30 years ago. In light of the Nobel Prize, though, the 1964 translation of The Interrogation, Le Clézio's debut novel that gained him international attention, was reissued in December by Simon & Schuster. The reissue was complete with the original cover photo of a young Le Clézio and his wife. Now out in paperback, the work is unlikely to reduce the umbrage of casual American readers who pick up the book simply because Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize. Again, though, that will not be an issue of his making.
The Interrogation, which won a prestigious French literary award when first published in 1963, is not a traditional novel. A Nobel summary of his work describes his early novels as "highly experimental in style and intellectually challenging." That is true here. In fact, Le Clézio tells readers at the outset of The Interrogation that he "deliberately chose ... a tenuous, abstract theme" and that he "made very little attempt at realistic treatment." As such, it is perhaps symbolic of a literary version of the French New Wave film movement. Certainly, it represents Le Clézio at the start of his career and his beginning exploration of the novel.