Celui qui n'avait jamais vu la mer, by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, is the story of Daniel who longs to see the ocean. That is all he speaks of and all he thinks of. Daniel, the boy who had never seen the sea, takes on the journey to meet her.
Même quand on parlait de la mer, ça ne l'intéressait pas longtemps... Ce n'était pas de cette mer-là qu'il voulait entendre parler. C'était d'une autre mer, on ne savait pas laquelle, mais d'une autre mer.
Even when we talked about the sea, the conversation didn’t interest him for long... That wasn’t the sea he wanted to hear about. He was interested in a different sea—we didn’t know which one, but a different one.
Celui qui n'avait jamais vu la mer was published in 1978 as part of a series of short stories titled Mondo et autres histoires. Le Clézio is of French and Mauritian descent and studied this book in my French literature class in high school, circa 1995. This is one of the stories that travelled with me across the horizons that Daniel longed to meet. The place beyond 'the immense sea, the sky, the clouds, the wild reef, and the waves'.
I found this book sitting at the back of my bookshelf. It has been there waiting for nearly 30 years. I had just finished Blue Bay Palace by Natacha Appanah and was inspired by her writing to continue reading and exploring.
In my copy of Mondo et autres histoires, I found hand written notes, underlined sentences and ripped pages, taped together. The colours of the pages, the smell. Pure nostalgia!
I wish to recall my thoughts and recognised my own handwriting. Do I know the 15 year old me? Bitter sweet!
In rereading the story, I noted some similarities between Daniel and Maya (protagonist of Blue Bay Palace). The sea and the salt is what brings them both to life. The essence of island living. There is this sense of abandonment and fixation with the sea and what lies beneath and beyond... deep melancholy!
Le Clézio won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008. On this occasion, the story of Daniel, The boy who had never seen the sea, was translated from the French by Deborah Treisman for The New Yorker: He was called Daniel, but he would have liked to be called Sinbad...