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by André Gide
ISBN 0394700082 / 9780394700083 / 0-394-70008-2
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With today's headlines and talk shows, it takes a lot to shock a reader--certainly more than was required in 1902, when André Gide's The Immoralist was first published. What was seen then as a story of dereliction translates today into a tale of introspection and fierce self-discovery. While traveling to Tunis with his new bride, the Parisian scholar Michel is overcome by tuberculosis. As he slowly convalesces, he revels in the physical pleasures of living and resolves to forgo his studies of the past in order to experience the present--to let "the layers of acquired knowledge peel away from the mind like a cosmetic and reveal, in patches, the naked flesh beneath, the authentic being hidden there."
But this is not the Michel his colleagues knew, nor the man Marceline married, and he must hide his new values under the patina of what he now reviles. Bored by Parisian society, he moves to a family farm in Normandy. He is happy there, especially in the company of young Charles, but he must soon return to the city and academe. Michel remains restless until he gives his first lecture and runs into Ménalque, who has long outraged society, and recognizes in him a reflection of his torment. Finally, Michel heads south, deeper into the desert, until, as he confides to his friends, he is lost in the sea of sand, under a clear, directionless sky.
What Gide's story lacks in sensationalism is fulfilled by his descriptive prose, which evokes the exotic nature of Michel's inner and outer journey: "I did not understand the forbearance of this African earth, submerged for days at a time and now awakening from winter, drunk with water, bursting with new juices; it laughed in this springtime frenzy whose echo, whose image I perceived within myself." --Joannie Kervran Stangeland [via]