Books: “Tropical Sadness”, the last literary journey of Jean-Baptiste Maudet

The history ? Jeanne Beaulieu, close to forty and quite a woman from what we can deduce, leaves her comfortable and boring life in Paris for a whole day, to find the trail of an Amazonian Indian seen in a documentary. a sleepless afternoon… In reality, they needed few goals or projects in life to undertake such an adventure around such a small obsession: to find that Indian of whom he knows nothing, and of whom he will know little until the end of the book. Lovers of novels with unexpected twists will jump right out of this voluntary spoiler.

search for meaning

However, the outcome and the truth of “Tropical Sadness” are elsewhere. In the search for meaning of a young woman who no longer really believed in love, she never really believed in it, and perhaps she found it near Manaus, on the shore of the “black river”. In another love story, the one staged, twenty years earlier, by a young student from Châteauroux and a rich and beautiful Brazilian heiress, with Seville as the setting and Erasmus in the background.

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The truth finally, in the rhythm of the text and the intertwining that recalls the dense Amazon jungle of the destinations raised there, between Jeanne’s journey, the Shakespearean story of Paul and Claudia, and of course the incessant round trips of the three characters with “Tristes tropiques”, the essential best-seller by Claude Lévi-Strauss to which “Tropical Sadness” refers even in the title.

It is all the talent of Jean-Baptiste Maudet, a geographer from the University of Pau, available for two years to better embrace his career as a novelist, mix these destinations and tell, in the background, the story of the exploitation of the Amazon, fragile forest and immense crossed by a mighty river, but threatened by men. Dangers that Lévi-Strauss has already seen arise, since the 1950s when his book was published. Sixty years later, nothing has changed, everything gets worse…

No postulate or accusation yet in this novel, which is more of a search for oneself, knows how to avoid suspense, and is read at the slow and sticky rhythm of the ship that will carry Jeanne, the truths of the famous anthropologist, and towards a love aborted and improbable with an American giant stranded on the banks of the Rio Negro.

The gallery of portraits and characters also gives full force to that “tropical sadness” that seizes the reader, once the novel is closed: the nostalgia of leaving Jeanne and her illusions, the fear of seeing the great river disappear one day, the increasingly insistent certainty, following Lévi-Strauss and Jeanne, that all journeys, if worthwhile, involve their share of destruction and disaster.

“Tropical sadness”, by Jean-Baptiste Maudet, Ed. Le Passage, 314 pages, 19 euros. Meeting with the author at the Librairie Tonnet de Pau on September 22, 2022 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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