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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La route de brique jaune va d’Oz à Los Alamoz

by Alain Nicolas

The Yellow Brick Road leads from Oz to Los Alamoz

Translated Sunday 12 September 2010, by Edward Lamb and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In CosmoZ [1], Claro revisits the famous adventures of Dorothy and her companions, and takes them to the heart of the 20th century whirlwind, amidst the concentration camps and the atomic bomb [2]

In France, one cannot imagine just what Oz means to Americans. Not only the 1939 Victor Fleming film, which launched Judy Garland’s career. First of all, it was a novel written by Frank Baum, in 1900, and which would become a masterpiece of American fantasy lore. We know the basic plot. Dorothy, a little girl from Kansas, is swept away by a tornado that carries her off to the Land of Oz. In order to find her way back home, she must encounter the Wizard of Oz, and has to follow the famous Yellow Brick Road, in the company of The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion, not to mention her dog, Toto. The novel has been the object of countless interpretations, advancing allusions to the economic and monetary crisis from which the USA was just recovering (1885). Yet, significantly, the film version reminded one more of the 1930’s crisis. It is no accident if, a few years after 9/11, the world of Oz is reinterpreted by a new novel. Claro [3]
, the translator of Pynchon, of Vollman, Gass, Gaddis, has also published a number of american novelists and is, thus, perfectly familiar with the culture. But, it’s also because (“becoz’, becoz’, becoz’, becoz’ becoz’…”) it has become a myth of a magnitude unknown to the European public that it is able to serve as the framework for new fictions, built upon a slightly antiquated, whimsical reality. Dorothy is the main character of the novel, although immediately put back into place by the inaugural address: “Your name is Dorothy and your were created by Frank Baum.” If we follow the latter from his beginnings, we find he underwent surgery for what might be called a tumor of the tongue, which, when incised, gushes gold dust everywhere. Like the supposedly “golden mouthed” Saint John Chrysostom, Baum lived, spoke and wrote under the sign of gold, or, more exactly that of gold standard criterion, this being one of the elements of the crisis which inspired Oz.

But, it is evidently World War II that is symbolized by the new cyclone that carries away Dorothy and her friends. After having bolstered her troupe, in addition to the scarecrow (the farmers) and the tin man (the workers), we discover Elfeba the crazy aviator, and Avram and Eizick, two dwarves escaped from a circus act featuring Snow White, Dorothy now undertakes her journey. The show continues with only the five midgets, and the small troupe finds its way home by flying over an irradiated landscape that resembles T.S. Eliot’s “Waste Land”. But, we must bear in mind that all of this is just for the show. And, then, one day, thanks to colour TV, we are finally able to see the yellow brick road exactly as the author intended.

Claro’s rapid prose style, allusive and poetic, transforms what might have been taken for an innocuous little fairy tale endowing it with a truly cosmic dimension, bringing Oz up to scale with our century.

Translator’s notes: [4]

[1Claro, CosmoZ, Actes Sud, 2010.

[2Whence the allusion to the town of Los Alamos in New Mexico, where atomic bombs were produced.

[3Christophe Claro, better known as Claro (born May 14, 1962, in Paris), is a French writer and translator. He is one of the leading promoters of contemporary American literature in France. His translations in French include works by William T. Vollmann, Thomas Pynchon and Mark Z. Danielewski, amongst many others.

[4Incidentally, the Spanish idiom “Claro que sí” (klah-roh keh see): roughly translates, in English, as “sure/of course”.

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