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Mostly Fiction: "A Sun for the Dying is Izzo’s finest novel, bitter, bleak and perfect, and Izzo fans will not be disappointed."

Date: Oct 1 2008

"A Sun For the Dying"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 25, 2008)

“When you were on the street, you lost your bearings, there were no rules anymore. Only the naïve believed in the solidarity of the poor. Like many others, Rico had found that out soon enough. On the street, it was every man for himself. You could be beaten up for nothing; a sleeping bag, a nail file, a comb, a bottle of wine, a pack of cigarettes—not even a full pack—and money, especially the day when the welfare payments arrived.”

A Sun for the Dying by Jean-Claude Izzo

Fans of Jean-Claude Izzo’s dark crime trilogy set in Marseilles (Total Chaos, Chourmo, Solea) will welcome A Sun for the Dying, now available in translation from Europa Editions. While society tends to ignore those who live on the street, Izzo boldly creates an unusual protagonist--a middle-aged homeless man, named Rico. Once employed, successful, and married, Rico is now homeless, living on the streets of Paris. The death of his friend, Titi, convinces Rico to leave Paris to return to the warmth of his beloved Marseilles.

For those of us lucky enough to have a supportive network of friends and family, it’s difficult to imagine the chain of misfortune that can lead to someone living on the streets, with no resources and no option but to beg for a little change. But it can happen, and that’s a thought that makes us uncomfortable. There’s a part of us that would like to imagine that being homeless is somehow a choice, and we assuage our discomfort at the sight of the homeless by saying that it couldn’t possibly happen to us; we would never choose to live like that. A Sun for the Dying challenges these assumptions about the homeless by exposing the memories and the wrecked life of Rico.

A Sun for the Dying finds Rico on the frozen Parisian streets, begging for change, and saturating his memories with cheap alcohol. The death of his friend, Titi at the age of 45, serves as a wake-up call. Titi showed Rico some of the tricks of surviving on the street, but his lonely death on a platform of a train station, convinces Rico “to leave Paris.” He reasons, “If he was going to die, he might as well die in the sun.” Teaming up with a violent, young drifter named Dede, the pair head for Marseilles, but Dede has plans to get some easy cash to finance the trip….

Over the course of the novel, Rico’s past is gradually revealed, and it’s apparent that his life has been shaped by his troubled relationships with women. Rico has sweet memories of his first love, Lea, a Marseilles woman he didn’t marry, and Rico concludes this is where he made his first mistake. Rico’s subsequent marriage and bitter divorce to the social-climbing Sophie left him vulnerable--financially and emotionally. And this set the stage for the series of events that led to his life on the streets.

There are several women in Rico’s past--the generous loving Lea, his ex-wife Sophie, switchboard operator, Malika, and the self-destructive Violaine with “eyes to capsize the world.” It’s Violaine who takes “him to the abyss into which she had long since plunged.” But there’s a savage, bleak grace in his relationship with Mirjana, a young, Bosnian prostitute, and it’s through this relationship that Rico rediscovers some shred of his humanity. But he pays a terrible price for knowing Mirjana and reasons, “the world dissolves but not the evil that rules it.”

A Sun for the Dying is Izzo’s finest novel, bitter, bleak and perfect, and Izzo fans will not be disappointed: “When you get to a certain point, Rico had thought, you can’t turn back. Because you’ve seen things no one has seen, lived through things no one had lived through. You’re condemned.” (Translated by Howard Curtis.)

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