Cover image for History of the world in nine guitars
History of the world in nine guitars
Orsenna, Erik, 1947-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Histoire du monde en neuf guitares. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Welcome Rain Publishers, 1999.
Physical Description:
105 pages ; 19 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A variation in nine movements on the guitar through the ages, from ancient Egypt to Jimi Hendrix, with Eric Clapton as the guide...An elegant, solemn tale.--Le Monde

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Twentieth-century positivism has relegated legends--those instructive stories of the past whose factuality can't be ascertained--to children's literature. Three newly translated examples show that legends can still fascinate adults. Martinican novelist Chamoiseau (Solibo Magnificent, 1998) offers pure legend. A centenarian retiree from the Saint-Etienne rum distillery discusses the sightings of a "dramatically beautiful" young woman by drinkers of the high-proof liquor. She--Elmira--makes a person realize his incompleteness, for which she represents the ideal fulfillment. Once seen, she becomes the object of a quest that never succeeds, for she reappears to none. The narrator has never seen her, yet he is content, believing that Elmira spurs him, like the others, "to find our quiet happiness." Complementing the slight, flavorful tale are the kind of illustrated board covers often found on children's books and a suite of magnificent photos by Jean-Luc de Laguarigue, half black-and-white portraits of old people from the distillery town and half color images of the distillery and wall signage, including the Saint-Etienne rum label with its image of Elmira. It is all real, you see. Even more real is the story of Climene, an Italian immigrant to Canada in the 1930s. Climene journeys to Montreal to marry fellow villager Adelmo, who has preceded her. She carries his child. But he has married another woman. With the help of the family of a woman she met on the boat coming over, Climene gives away the child, integrates herself into the Italian immigrant community, marries the kindly Beppo, and prospers. All the while, she carries a double torch, with one flame for Adelmo and their child, another for her home village. Finally, she returns to Italy. Meanwhile, with her material success have come some heart-wrenching and door-closing events. Yet at last she is content, "alone and free." The point of the story is much the same as that of Chamoiseau's folkloric tale. Spare diction and candor save it from cloying sentimentality and make it a work of art. A prizewinner in Canada and Italy, it debuts in English 23 years after original publication. Orsenna and Arnoult's History is more fantastic from the get go. Eric Clapton, no less, drops in on an archaeologist digging where the remains of Lucy, the oldest human yet discovered, were found. The bone-grubber has the Beatles on the box when Clapton arrives--hold that bit of info. When the guitarist beds down, he dreams great moments in guitar history, from ancient Egypt to Woodstock, where the focal character is Jimi Hendrix, about to wake the last-day crowd with "The Star-Spangled Banner." After Clapton awakes on December 31, 1999, all the pickers except Jimi, who "has gone too far" (Y' dig? Hea-vy!), materialize for a big jam with . . . Paul, George, Ringo, and even John, arriving in a pink helicopter. This is a legend about the power of music, man! That is a worthy enough thing to be about, though middle-aged air guitarists are probably the story's ideal readers. It was loved in its homeland, France, but then the French--and some Americans, it's true--love Jerry Lewis. --Ray Olson