Journey unknown

Arabesques by Robert Dessaix

Andre Gide wouldn’t have even guessed that more than a hundred years later, someone would follow his footsteps, from Lisbon to the edge of the Sahara, from Paris, to the south of France and Algiers. It is the theme of Robert Dessaix’s new book ‘Arabesques’ and it is the journey of both men, a century apart.

Andre Gide, a great French writer, a Nobel literature laurite, in an evening, met another great writer, Oscar Wilde in Algiers. The air was hot, the mood was seductive. Two men were listening to the music played by an Arabic boy. Gide couldn’t take his eyes off the boy. Did that night change Gide’s life forever or did it merely excite Gide’s hidden nature, his homosexuality? Dessaix was going to find out.

Yet, it is a travel book if we want to categorise it. It is not only about a trip taken by Dessais, it is also a journey into Gide’s life. It was a life free from religious constraint, a life full of imagination and creativity but not without scandal or controversy, even from today’s point of view. As the author of this book, Dessaix was determined to find and unmasked Gide, and also embark upon a journey to find his true self.

Europeans have always gone to North Africa to lose themselves, and it is still the same today. Because people like Gide and Dessaix wanted to ‘burn off all those clusters of self-awareness, want to taste life in all its rawness once more, there’s an infantile impulse at work.’ They ‘want to be given the chance to start afresh’ and lose religious and cultural luggage in Africa. Is it true, that North Africa is happy to please and rejuvenate its colonials by posing herself naked entirely?

This journey apparently wasn’t easy for Dessaix, he didn’t mention Gide’s political activities, but only his sexual nature, his bizarre marriage with his cousin Madeleine. Gide was a women’s man, he even bore a child with a woman friend, but strangely not to his own wife. He never once was Madeleine’s true husband. It was a true torture and deadly punishment for a woman like Madeleine. Dessaix doesn’t think you could blame Gide for his life choices, that this is the only way Gide could live his life fully.