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Journey to the Land of Words
|Erik Orsenna Grammar Is a Sweet, Gentle Song|
Braziller, George Inc 2004 / / 126 pages
ISBN : 0807615315
Original Title: La grammaire est une chanson douce
Translated by: Moishe Black
List Price: $19.95
Apart from his double-status as an Immortal in the French Academy the national codifying body for French language usage and senior member of the French Council of State, Erik Orsenna is head of the leading engineering school in France, not to mention a prolific writer. After Virgil and Rabelais, names that bring to mind images of the sea, of shipwrecks and of islands, Orsenna too employs the storm as a meeting point between the real world and that of fables.
The story: Jeanne and her brother Thomas have a marvelous elementary school teacher and all is well, that is, until the arrival of Madame Jargonos. Feeling dangerously close to emerging into a world of adults, the two children decide to run away and take to the sea. After a storm, they run aground on an island of words where vocabulary actually comes to life. On this island lives Monsieur Henri, for whom grammar is a sweet, gentle song, unlike the ominous Nécrole, governor of the archipelago and his ally, the sinister Madame Jargonos, for whom grammar is rather an exact science.
This charming story lightly treats a few contemporary worries from a distance: cultural education of children, the death of languages, and the disappearance of literature. Grammar is a Sweet, Gentle Song is a fable about the necessary return to the art of gleaning pleasure from texts, as well as the ever-essential adieu to jargon-laden expression. Nonetheless, critics might object that taking pleasure in a text and critical intelligence sometimes go hand in hand and that Monsieur Henri and Madame Jargonos are not as incompatible as Erik Orsenna would have us believe. In this imaginative world under the aegis of Andersen, Wilde, Lagerlöf, Dahl and others still, children are always right and adults wrong. Such is the way of the fairy tale, profound despite its perhaps puerile appearance. The tale searches to remind its reader of his childlike spirit and the modesty of things. Through humor and poetry, Erik Orsenna manages brilliantly to do so.
Thomas Regnier / Translated from the French by Edward C Hollo
( Mis en ligne le 28/04/2005 )
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