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Shelf Awareness: "why was I sobbing as I closed this book? Because Izzo's vision of life, though unspeakably sad, rings boldly honest."

Date: Sep 8 2008

from Shelf Awareness

Medicating himself with Dolipran, only as sober as he absolutely needs to be, Rico is one of the homeless of Paris, living on the street and managing to stay numb and survive, but the discovery of his best friend's body frozen to death in the subway sends Rico out to find a place where he can die in the sun.

Sad stuff? Wrenchingly so, but Jean-Claude Izzo's final novel, A Sun for the Dying, is so fearless in facing the harsh inequities of life that it's exhilarating to read. Izzo swoops to the defense of the powerless with the zeal of a Dickens or Hugo, and his passionate love of his characters balances his determined look down into the abyss of human misery.

It's a long way back to Marseilles, Rico's sunny destination and the home city of the author, and two thirds of the novel is spent just trying to get there. On his way back across France, Rico has telling encounters and remembers chunks of his past, the women he's loved, the wife who left him.

The novel is studded with delightful, touching characters: Felix, the good-natured halfwit who looks and acts like a teenager with a football he's never without; Mirjana, the prostitute from Bosnia who considers herself already dead and takes pity on homeless Rico; and Abdou, the streetwise, parentless 13-year-old Arab boy who becomes Rico's guardian angel during his final days.

Son of an Italian immigrant, Izzo lived most of his life in his beloved Marseilles and wrote five novels that took place there before passing away in 2000 at the age of 55. His suspenseful novels read like a cross between Joseph Conrad and Albert Camus and are among the defining novels of an exciting new European genre, Mediterranean noir, an adaptation of the classic crime novel where the additional crime of social injustice is the setting for the human drama, all of it boiled in the hot tempers and sensuality of the Mediterranean sun.

Izzo is famous for making grown men weep, and it's embarrassingly true. So why was I sobbing as I closed this book? Because Izzo's vision of life, though unspeakably sad, rings boldly honest. He tells his melancholy tale of a fallen man's last days with a candid, unflinching look at the unfairness of modern life but done without whimpering, with grand, larger-than-life characters you can't help but love who stand up to their operatic fates with noble, near-suicidal defiance.

--by Nick DiMartino

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