"The Sign of Death"

from "The Escapee"
in The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts
J. M. G. Le Clézio

The child is trembling in spite of the sun. The barren sky weighs so heavily upon him; the light blinds him, parches his throat. From time to time, like the sun glinting out from behind a hawk's wing, he catches sight of something resembling the sign of fear. The sign of death is there. It's a sign you see when you close your eyes, a terrifying mark. The silence is endless. The child cannot stand up, cannot call out; he must not.  The soldiers are like insects: first there's no sign of them, then all of a sudden they're there, and you can't understand where they came from. The soldiers are walking along the cracks in the earth, just like ants. Where do they come from? What do they want? What are they looking for?

What I find amazing in this prose is the way that Le Clézio is able to take an open landscape like this and somehow transform it into something claustrophobic and oppressive.  Everything is weighted by the light and by the lowering sky.  It's an amazing effect in prose, and he does it successfully at every attempt.  Truly, an impressive feat.


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