Title: Gorgeous East
Author: Robert Girardi
Release Date: October 13, 2009
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Gorgeous East centers on three different men who are all members of the French Foreign Legion, which is a military unit made up of foreigners with the worst reputations – murderers, rapists, etc. Evariste Pinard is a Canadian who plays the Oboe, John Smith is an American who enlisted in the Legion because of a broken heart, and Phillipe de Noyers an aristocratic officer. These three men each find their destinies when they are sent to the Western Sahara Desert in order to intervene in a war that has been going on for decades.
Gorgeous East is a book with an intriguing premise. The French Foreign Legion is the stuff of legends – it exists to this day as a haven for criminals, thieves, and murderers. There are no questions asked when you sign up, and they take your passport for 5 years. If you make it through your stint, you are a completely different person. I find the concept very interesting, as if it belongs in a movie from the 1940’s. Therefore, I was very excited to pick up this book and read all about the French Foreign Legion.
The characters in Gorgeous East are incredibly well developed. Girardi obviously spent a lot of time and effort writing the three main characters, making sure they were fully fleshed out. The reader really gets to know them well. My favorite character was John Smith because in a lot of ways, the reader gets to see the entirety of his journey. By witnessing the events that drove John to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, the reader reaches a level of understanding with him that doesn’t necessarily happen with the other characters.
The scenery is extremely vivid in Gorgeous East. From the streets of Paris to Turkey to the Western Sahara, Girardi’s prose has a way of searing itself on the reader’s mind. As a result, one only has to close their eyes in order to see the places that Girardi so expertly describes. It’s a real treat to be able to travel the world for only the cost of a book.
Gorgeous East is a fun novel, though it’s not without its flaws. The story drags in places and the plot can be incredibly convoluted at times. It’s also sometimes difficult to tell how one thing in the story relates to another. Still, it’s a well written novel that is unexpectedly funny, and is worth reading if you’re interested in travel-oriented and character driven literary fiction.