Aldebaran is the brightest star of Taurus, my constellation, Alpha Tauri according to Bayer designation. But in the novel of Jean-Claude Izzo, Les Marins Perdus, it is the name of the cargo ship at the port of Marseilles. Unable to continue its route, due to the greed of the owner. A cargo ship fixed in front of a moving, lively and open city. Marseilles is a hero in the novel, aging, falling apart and growing in charm. The ship (deck and cabins) and the city make a good scenery for exploring the rules of entropy.
Here we are, watching the Lebanese captain, Abdul Aziz, the Greek second captain (ship's mate) Diamantis, and the Turk sailor Nedim remembering, constructing their interpretations and inventing or canceling future, according to their origins, their age, their impetus for survival. The Greek translation has not been successful in all its details, I could read the hasty misreadings in this flat language that should be used mostly for the rose sugar romance novels sold at train stations and international airports. The first two march heavy with details of a shared past to the stage of retirement, the third is of the peasant nature and, supposedly, would rather be at his village. The dramatic finale proves his desire right.
Abdul Aziz, during his long career, has been escaping the adamant rules of the firm land: this Arabic iron hand of correctness and contempt, a father, a brother, an expanded territory of silence concerning the genuine self. Diamantis is the son of Ulysses, a second, cross-time Telemachus. Even his native island is Psara, few miles next to Chios, where Homer supposedly saw the blinding light at birth. He travels to discover himself, to make sense of all the fragments as parts of a thorough melody. Nedim is young, his life is his sexual drive, and the difficulty to enter the grounded reality of adulthood and its roles. This crew is what remains once the final decision of the company is announced to keep the cargo anchored. The rest take some small compensation and depart each one to different aims and directions. Only those three samples from the Eastern Mediterranean pot stay on board till the end, searching for an end.
Women are the secret power of the plot: some appearing from the past- Amina, was renamed to Gabi according to the changes in her life. Melina stayed away, she could not bear the role of a traveler's wife. Sefe stopped being the welcoming harbor. Aizel undertook the task of waiting for her sailor. Other appear now to shake everything and to promise stability. But the great female figure of the book is the Mediterranean. Not the Ocean. (In Greek, let us note, Thalassa is feminine, and Okeanos masculine)
I find Izzo's book sweet and old-fashioned: although it is published in 1997 (Flammarion), it brings along an old taste of humanism. He was, anyway, so much engaged himself with the regional issues of Marseilles and the Left. There is a strong touch of naturalism combined with an open minded approach to cultural diversity, somewhere between the meridian of orientalism and romanticism. No approach prevails in the end. The routes are personal, as if each life is a different cargo, on a different map, of a different planet. Now, I find the way of representing Abdul Aziz's figure ambivalent and summarizing some of my thoughts concerning the middle eastern essence, if there is any. It was a pillow book for part of my Ramadan siestas.
Izzo concludes his novel by asking those who hold power in the region to read Fernand Braudel and Predrag Matveyevic. I wonder if they did.