2008 Nobel Prize-winning Franco-Mauritian author JMG Le Clézio has dipped his pen into the world of transnational literature again, but in an unexpected inkwell.
Le Clézio, born in Mauritius, and once called the Steve McQueen of nouveau roman literature due to his good looks, itinerancy and penchant for adventure, has lived around the world and written about disparate cultures with incisiveness and intricacy in over forty novels and short story collections.
His latest outing Bitna, sous le ciel de Séoul (Bitna: Under the Sky of Seoul) is described as a ‘portrait of Seoul … of life in the city as it is being lived today’. The character in the novel’s title is a nineteen-year-old girl encountering the unfamiliar capital and herself as a new university student. She takes on a job as a paid storyteller, telling stories to a woman named Salome. Through several intertwined stories, Le Clézio and Bitna create a stirring tapestry of South Korean experiences.
All of the places in the novel are Le Clézio’s old haunts; the city, his muse. The Nobel Laureate lived in the city and even learnt Korean after becoming enamoured of the culture upon his first visit to South Korea a decade ago. He remarked at a press conference for Bitna: Under the Sky of Seoul:
‘The most impressive thing about Seoul is that because it has so many people and a variety of elements, it’s always transforming. When you come back to a certain place six months later, some things have disappeared and new things have constantly been created. Compared with this, Paris is static and unchanging. I was talking with director Park Chan-wook, and he, too, said because Seoul transforms so quickly, he doesn’t want to leave, even for a minute.’