“The Lost Sailors” completes my odyssey through the works of Jean-Claude Izzo, and the engaging tapestry he weaves between character, story and setting. Like his Marseilles trilogy, “The Lost Sailors” continues to explore the relationship between man and the sea focusing on the story of the sailors aboard the impounded freighter Aldebaran, docked in Marseilles.
They have a choice—stay and wait the situation out or take a small payout and leave. All but two will opt for the latter, with the captain and first mate opting to stay onboard. What follows is the slow unraveling of men whose lives are lived for and by their time at sea. The sea allows them to put their problems and pasts literally and figuratively behind them. Stuck as they are in Marseilles, their ability to run is no more. Their refuse has become their prison. Captain Aziz and first mate Diamantis both have their reasons to stay, though Captain Aziz’s reason has more to do with not wanting to go home while Diamantis remains focused on a mission of redemption somewhere on the streets of Marseilles.
“They were united by the storm. In the same way that a storm at sea brings a crew closer together. No sailor ever tells his family about times like that. Never writes about it, never mentions it…because he doesn’t want to worry them...it’s not something you can talk about. Storms don’t exist. Any more than sailors do, when they’re at sea. Men are only real when on land. No one knows anything about sailors until they come ashore.”
The unexpected return of Nedim, a crewmember who found his departure obstructed, complicates the two men’s plans. Lebanese, Greek and Turkish, the group are bound to the ship an each other giving the reader this motley snapshot of life along the Mediterranean. True to form, Izzo’s Marseilles holds both the promise of something more and the threat of violence. I found myself engrossed in this book, worried for these characters and hopeful they could find a way off of their boat onto shore, figuratively speaking. Having not been to Marseilles myself, I can only imagine that Izzo captures its essence and spirit. His ability to instill Marseilles with the foreboding dread of uncertainty, yet leave the reader with the sense that Marseilles is the only place a person can truly experience life to its fullest has impressed me in all of his work.
Compared to the trilogy I previously reviewed, “The Lost Sailors” tones the violence down somewhat as more characters are given time to develop. This may lead one to think that this makes it an easier read than Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy. It does not. It is Izzo’s Marseilles, and Izzo’s Marseilles always exacts its cost. As things spiral out of control, it is because I was so invested in these characters that their peril affected me as it did. Nedim, Diamantis and Aziz and their coterie of supporting characters pulled me into their lives, and every joy, every heartbreak, every loss and challenge I faced with them. I cannot imagine a better way to end my reading (for now) of Jean-Claude Izzo. The idea of Homer’s “The Odyssey” recurs throughout “The Lost Sailors,” as metaphor for the journey these three, and all the other sailors of the Mediterranean—and the world—live out on the sea. I tacked this onto the end of my reading of the Marseilles trilogy and the metaphor may even extend to all of Izzo’s books. Reading them is akin to taking a journey with Izzo to and through his Marseilles. It is a journey well worth it.