"A Sun For the Dying"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 25, 2008)
“When you were on the street, you lost your bearings, there were no rules anymore. Only the naïve believed in the solidarity of the poor. Like many others, Rico had found that out soon enough. On the street, it was every man for himself. You could be beaten up for nothing; a sleeping bag, a nail file, a comb, a bottle of wine, a pack of cigarettes—not even a full pack—and money, especially the day when the welfare payments arrived.”
Fans of Jean-Claude Izzo’s dark crime trilogy set in Marseilles (Total Chaos, Chourmo, Solea) will welcome A Sun for the Dying, now available in translation from Europa Editions. While society tends to ignore those who live on the street, Izzo boldly creates an unusual protagonist--a middle-aged homeless man, named Rico. Once employed, successful, and married, Rico is now homeless, living on the streets of Paris. The death of his friend, Titi, convinces Rico to leave Paris to return to the warmth of his beloved Marseilles.
For those of us lucky enough to have a supportive network of friends and family, it’s difficult to imagine the chain of misfortune that can lead to someone living on the streets, with no resources and no option but to beg for a little change. But it can happen, and that’s a thought that makes us uncomfortable. There’s a part of us that would like to imagine that being homeless is somehow a choice, and we assuage our discomfort at the sight of the homeless by saying that it couldn’t possibly happen to us; we would never choose to live like that. A Sun for the Dying challenges these assumptions about the homeless by exposing the memories and the wrecked life of Rico.
A Sun for the Dying finds Rico on the frozen Parisian streets, begging for change, and saturating his memories with cheap alcohol. The death of his friend, Titi at the age of 45, serves as a wake-up call. Titi showed Rico some of the tricks of surviving on the street, but his lonely death on a platform of a train station, convinces Rico “to leave Paris.” He reasons, “If he was going to die, he might as well die in the sun.” Teaming up with a violent, young drifter named Dede, the pair head for Marseilles, but Dede has plans to get some easy cash to finance the trip….
Over the course of the novel, Rico’s past is gradually revealed, and it’s apparent that his life has been shaped by his troubled relationships with women. Rico has sweet memories of his first love, Lea, a Marseilles woman he didn’t marry, and Rico concludes this is where he made his first mistake. Rico’s subsequent marriage and bitter divorce to the social-climbing Sophie left him vulnerable--financially and emotionally. And this set the stage for the series of events that led to his life on the streets.
There are several women in Rico’s past--the generous loving Lea, his ex-wife Sophie, switchboard operator, Malika, and the self-destructive Violaine with “eyes to capsize the world.” It’s Violaine who takes “him to the abyss into which she had long since plunged.” But there’s a savage, bleak grace in his relationship with Mirjana, a young, Bosnian prostitute, and it’s through this relationship that Rico rediscovers some shred of his humanity. But he pays a terrible price for knowing Mirjana and reasons, “the world dissolves but not the evil that rules it.”
A Sun for the Dying is Izzo’s finest novel, bitter, bleak and perfect, and Izzo fans will not be disappointed: “When you get to a certain point, Rico had thought, you can’t turn back. Because you’ve seen things no one has seen, lived through things no one had lived through. You’re condemned.” (Translated by Howard Curtis.)
- Amazon readers rating: from 1 reviews
"The Lost Sailors"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage JAN 31, 2008)
“The rules were the same on land and sea. For all men, whoever they were. Everything depended on the way you dealt with other people. The rules--laws, codes, conventions--only found their true meaning after that. But he never looked beyond the basic meaning of the rules: a way of managing men. When it came to rules, he never really thought of men as real people. Man didn’t enter into the law. He had to submit to it. And in the social hierarchy, it was better to command than to submit.”
Jean-Claude Izzo, author of the Marseilles Trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, and Solea) creates another slice of Marseilles life in his latest novel, The Lost Sailors. While the focus of the book is a handful of sailors stranded in the Port of Marseilles, this novel is the sort of uncompromising, dark exploration of human behaviour that fans expect from Izzo’s raw noir crime fiction.
When the novel begins, it’s been five months since the freighter Aldebaran, registered to a Cypriot owner, Constantin Takis, was seized as security for unpaid debts. This act leaves the sailors completely stranded and in dire straits. As time goes by, and the court case against Takis continues, the unpaid sailors find themselves living on the freighter with dwindling provisions and short tempers. When most of the international crew is finally paid off, Lebanese Captain Abdul Aziz remains with the freighter along with the Greek first mate Diamantis.
With a great deal of free time, inactivity and boredom, Aziz and Diamantis contemplate their lives, their failed marriages and the time spent at sea. Aziz’s career is built on a shameful secret and a moment in which he ignored principles and opted, instead, for security. This decision, based on expediency, eats away at Aziz’s conscience, but rather than deal with it openly, it remains destructively buried. Diamantis, on the other hand, decides to come to terms with his past, and the turning point in his life occurred in Marseilles twenty years earlier.
Stranded in Marseilles, Diamantis decides to take advance of the fact and search for the beautiful woman he loved and lost decades earlier. This decision requires a great deal of courage and self-examination, but Diamantis pursues the truth even though he realizes that he may pay for his search with his life.
Diamantis’s search of his lost love takes him into the very depths of the Marseilles underworld—the bars where lonely, sex-hungry sailors meet beautiful girls, life is cheap and few can afford principles. As with Izzo’s other novels, The Lost Sailors has the usual extraneous characters and lacks a strong focus, but those criticisms aside, Izzo once again offers his readers an unforgettable, unique slice of Marseilles life. While an exploration of the seamy side of Marseilles, and its continuing problems with racism and gentrification, The Lost Sailors also pays homage to those men who spend their lives on the sea—a dying breed of men who are lost and vulnerable on the land.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- One Helluva Mess (2000)
- The Lost Sailors (1997; September 2007 in US)
- A Sun for the Dying (2000; August 2008 in US)
- Living Tires (1998)
- Total Chaos (Total Kheops 1995; 2005 in U.S.) (also released as One Helluva Mess in 2000 )
- Chourmo (1996; September 2006 in U.S.)
- Solea (1998; June 2007 in US
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- Official website for the Jean Claude Izzo (in French)
- MostlyFiction.com review of Total Chaos and Chourmo
- NovelWorld review of The Lost Sailors
- Guardian Blogs review of The Lost Sailors
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About the Author:
Jean Claude Izzo was born in Marseilles, France in 1945. His father was an Italian immigrant and his maternal grandfather was a Spanish immigrant. He excelled in school and spent much of his time writing stories and poems. But because of his “immigrant” status, he was forced into a technical school where he was taught how to operate a lathe.
In 1963, he began work in a bookstore. He also actively campaigned on behalf of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace movement. Then, in 1964, he was called up for military duty in Toulon and Djibouti. He worked for the military newspaper as a photograph and journalist.
He was a poet, playwright, screenwriter and novelist who achieved sudden fame in the mid-1990s with the publication of the Marseilles trilogy.
He died in 2000, of cancer, at the age of 55 years old.