LIANE HANSEN, host:

The winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature was born in France, but his work is defined by his life of travel around the world. Here's a reading from a novel by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

Mr. JEAN-MARIE GUSTAVE LE CLEZIO (Writer; 2008 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature): (Reading) As far back as I can remember, I have listened to the sea, to the sound of it mingling with the wind in the (unintelligible) needles. The wind that never stopped blowing, even when one left the shore behind and crossed the sugar cane fields.

HANSEN: Le Clezio's ecological and trans-global concerns made him an especially timely choice, as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: Le Clezio's name had long been floated as a potential Nobel recipient, but when it was announced at the Swedish Academy last week you could hear the crowd's shock and delight.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

ULABY: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio is a well-respected name in the Francophone world, but the author never really sought much attention, says his biographer, Jennifer Waelti-Walters.

Ms. JENNIFER WAELTI-WALTERS (Biographer): He's a gentle writer for the most part, and so he never became one of those trendy French writers that the French all read, but he was always present in the literary - what shall I say, mileau.

ULABY: That presence was firmly established in 1963, when Le Clezio quietly submitted his first manuscript to a prestigious publishing house, then promptly won a top French literary award. He became an overnight sensation. He was 23 years old.

Ms. WAELTI-WALTERS: He was very shy, really good-looking, tall and blonde, and he was a wonderful storyteller.

ULABY: But for Le Clezio, storytelling means melting into the background, as he said in an interview on the Nobel Web site.

Mr. LE CLEZIO: A writer is not a prophet, is not a philosopher. He's just someone who is witness to what is around him.

ULABY: Le Clezio's world is one of exiles, loners and refugees. And he's finely attuned to nature, says his biographer, Jennifer Waelti-Walters.

Ms. WAELTI-WALTERS: With the kind of 19th-century facility with words that meant that he could draw a word painting of a storm, and you'd feel as though you got wet.

Unidentified Actor: (Reading) The sea was inside my head.

ULABY: This reading is from "The Prospector," a novel about buried treasures set on the island nation of Mauritius, where Le Clezio and his family once lived.

Unidentified Actor: (Reading) And when I closed my eyes I saw and heard it best, clearly perceiving each wave as it crushed onto the reef and then came together again to unfurl on the shore.

ULABY: The Nobel's permanent secretary described Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio as not a typically French writer. He described him as a nomad, someone who does not belong anywhere, yet he moves from culture to culture and writes in the space he creates between them. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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