Gorgeous East: A Novel

Overview

A sweeping tale of love and redemption, honor and war, Robert Girardi’s Gorgeous East follows three French For eign legionnaires of very different backgrounds from the cliffs of Mont Saint-Michel to Istanbul’s ancient alley ways, from raucous Parisian bars to the desolate Sahara. Gorgeous East takes us on an epic and unfor get table ad ven ture with the wonderful John Smith, a lost Brooklynite they call the Handsome American Cowboy; Colonel de Noyer, the elder statesman slowly going mad; and Cap tain Pinard, ...

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Gorgeous East: A Novel

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Overview

A sweeping tale of love and redemption, honor and war, Robert Girardi’s Gorgeous East follows three French For eign legionnaires of very different backgrounds from the cliffs of Mont Saint-Michel to Istanbul’s ancient alley ways, from raucous Parisian bars to the desolate Sahara. Gorgeous East takes us on an epic and unfor get table ad ven ture with the wonderful John Smith, a lost Brooklynite they call the Handsome American Cowboy; Colonel de Noyer, the elder statesman slowly going mad; and Cap tain Pinard, whose past is so hideous he can’t find love outside the Legion’s walls. When a mission in the Sahara goes horribly wrong, one legionnaire must wage battle against a rogue terrorist group and rescue his brothers-in-arms. In this tremendous return to form, Girardi show cases his sheer love of language and lumi n ous sense of place to deliver a masterful novel of the hearts and minds of soldiers of fortune.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Gorgeous East:

“The French foreign legion is the stuff of literary and Hollywood legend: an army of the desperate and depraved, who may redeem themselves through service to France—or die in some hellish place, outnumbered, outgunned, unknown, unmourned. Gorgeous East seems a homage to now-dated adventure yarns like Beau Geste, but Girardi, tongue gleefully in cheek, points out that the legion abides, and he sets three contemporary legionnaires down in the middle of what may be the world’s least-known, four-decades-old war, in Western Sahara. Colonel Phillipe de Noyer is a French nobleman with a passion for Eric Satie and a patrimony that ensures he will go mad. Lieutenant Evariste Pinard is a French Canadian former thug who finds a home in the legion. American John Smith is a failed musical comedy actor whose life bottoms out in Istanbul when the woman he loved, and sought to reclaim, is murdered. He joins simply to punish himself. These characters and a host of others, including the legion itself, are quirky yet lovingly drawn. Girardi’s depictions of Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel, Istanbul, and Western Sahara are rich with imagery, smells and sounds. His prose is, by turns, fluid, exuberant, cynical, fascinatingly discursive, and happily over-the-top. Gorgeous East surprises, delights, and rewards.’ –Booklist [STARRED REVIEW]

“Equal parts update of Beau Geste and gonzo parody, Girardi’s latest novel is his first American publication in ten years. It’s the tale of three French Foreign Legionnaires: de Noyer, an aristocratic, Satie-worshipping French officer suffering from insomnia and genetic insanity; Pinard, a French-Canadian noncom with an oboe and an ugly past; and John Smith (his real name, not the alias chosen by many comrades), a failed American musical comedian just becoming aware of his life’s vapidity. All three adore Sophie, de Noyer’s bright but suicidal wife. And all three are forced into battle with Al Bab, the imam of a new sect destabilizing the dreary war between Morocco and the Saharoui Arab Democratic Republic. Despite odd moments when thoughts and actions are ascribed to soldier characters that seem more appropriate to the writer, this work delivers vivid characters and wi ld adventure while skewering both Western powers and Islamic terrorists. VERDICT: “Fans of political commentary or violent dark humor will find much to enjoy….” – Library Journal

“[A]n entertaining 21st-century variant on the classic adventure tale. Characterizations are brisk and vivid, as the story whips along toward a violent climax with a nice surprise twist…. Girardi pits the French Foreign Legion against Muslim fanatics. Since Louis Philippe founded the Legion in 1831, its lost-soul volunteers fight in the most desolate corners of the globe mostly because they have nothing better to do with their lives. American musical comedy actor John Smith winds up in the Legion after a disastrous trip to Istanbul that results in the murder of the girlfriend who jilted him for a wealthy Turk. Sous-lieutenant Evariste Pinard, a French Canadian drug dealer and enforcer for a Russian loan shark in France, chose the Legion over prison and deportation. And they’re two of the more savory recruits in Girardi’s nastily realistic rogues’ gallery. Yet it’s such an honor to whip lost souls like these into military shape that only the best of France’s aristocratic officer class, like Colonel Philippe de Noyer, are deemed worthy to serve in the Legion. Unfortunately, Noyer is also possessed of a hereditary tendency toward madness, sparked in his case by a particularly ugly encounter with a fundamentalist Islamic insurgency in the Western Sahara. The creepy Marabouts, who decapitate their enemies and initiate members with bee stings, are mostly an excuse for lots of action sequences featuring vastly outnumbered Legionnaires grimly holding strongholds soon to be overrun by bloodthirsty savages, or charging into hordes of similar savages crying “à moi la Legion!”–Kirkus

More Praise for Robert Girardi:

“A skillful stylist who tells his story with rapid ease.” –The Washington Post

“An author of substantial gifts…remarkable descriptive ability, subtle humor, and an uncanny ability to create tactile and luminous sense of place.” –Detroit Free Press

“A spellbinding storyteller.” –Daily Mail (UK)

“A remarkable achievement…part love story, part ghost story, always absorbing.” – Los Angeles Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly

A well-researched tale of the modern French Foreign Legion, Girardi's first novel in seven years (after The Wrong Doyle) is a major disappointment that, marred by purple prose ("The pain... blotted out everything-courage, honor, love-and he lay on the sandy ground in the grips of this blackness, moaning weakly") and undermined at key points by parody, fails on every level. The plot centers on three legionnaires: Phillipe de Noyer, an aristocratic officer; Evariste Pinard, a reformed Quebecois thug; and John Smith, an American musical theater actor who joins the legion after his selfishness leads to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. The three men become involved in the legion's battle against an uprising in the western Sahara led by Al-Bab, a portly false prophet. After an attack on one of the legion's desert forts, de Noyer and Smith become Al-Bab's prisoners, and Pinard is dispatched to rescue them. But by the time Al-Bab's actual identity is revealed (a sequence that is, simply, silly-the vital clue is a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal) and the prisoners are rescued, all but the most masochistic readers will have put this down. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Equal parts update of Beau Geste and gonzo parody, Girardi's (A Vaudeville of Devils) latest novel is his first American publication in ten years. It's the tale of three French Foreign Legionnaires: de Noyer, an aristocratic, Satie-worshipping French officer suffering from insomnia and genetic insanity; Pinard, a French-Canadian noncom with an oboe and an ugly past; and John Smith (his real name, not the alias chosen by many comrades), a failed American musical comedian just becoming aware of his life's vapidity. All three adore Sophie, de Noyer's bright but suicidal wife. And all three are forced into battle with Al Bab, the imam of a new sect destabilizing the dreary war between Morocco and the Saharoui Arab Democratic Republic. Despite odd moments when thoughts and actions are ascribed to soldier characters that seem more appropriate to the writer, this work delivers vivid characters and wild adventure while skewering both Western powers and Islamic terrorists. VERDICT Fans of political commentary or violent dark humor will find much to enjoy, but others may take offense or just not get it. [Library marketing campaign.]—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Girardi (The Wrong Doyle, 2004, etc.) pits the French Foreign Legion against Muslim fanatics. Since Louis Philippe founded the Legion in 1831, its lost-soul volunteers fight in the most desolate corners of the globe mostly because they have nothing better to do with their lives. American musical comedy actor John Smith winds up in the Legion after a disastrous trip to Istanbul that results in the murder of the girlfriend who jilted him for a wealthy Turk. Sous-lieutenant Evariste Pinard, a French Canadian drug dealer and enforcer for a Russian loan shark in France, chose the Legion over prison and deportation. And they're two of the more savory recruits in Girardi's nastily realistic rogues' gallery. Yet it's such an honor to whip lost souls like these into military shape that only the best of France's aristocratic officer class, like Colonel Philippe de Noyer, are deemed worthy to serve in the Legion. Unfortunately, Noyer is also possessed of a hereditary tendency toward madness, sparked in his case by a particularly ugly encounter with a fundamentalist Islamic insurgency in the Western Sahara. The creepy Marabouts, who decapitate their enemies and initiate members with bee stings, are mostly an excuse for lots of action sequences featuring vastly outnumbered Legionnaires grimly holding strongholds soon to be overrun by bloodthirsty savages, or charging into hordes of similar savages crying "a moi la Legion!" This genre hasn't changed much since Beau Geste, and Girardi is content to stick to the formula of men with dark pasts loyal only to each other, "or else what were they but a bunch of murderers?" Characterizations are brisk and vivid, as the story whips along toward a violent climaxwith a nice surprise twist, followed by one Legionnaire's predictable decision to forsake the chance of love and a fresh start for more brutalization by the military. Nothing new here, but an entertaining 21st-century variant on the classic adventure tale.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312565862
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

ROBERT GIRARDI is the author of five novels. His short fiction has been published everywhere from Tri-Quarterly to Virginia Literary Review, and his non-fiction has appeared in The New Republic and The Washington Post. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and USC Film School, Girardi has received a James Michener Fellowship. He lives in Washington, D.C, where he is the writer-in-residence at Goucher College.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 17, 2009

    Disappointing...

    I was eagerly waiting to read Bob Girardi's new novel having really liked Madeleine's Ghost and also some of the stories contained in A Vaudeville of Two Devils.

    Beyond the writing - there are very good descriptions, great register of language/vocabulary, although on page 1 a major grammatical mistake and a few others later on- and the style -masculine a la Macho, sometimes unsufferable, but witty also at times, although with a bitter aftertaste as if the author held back the reins instead of letting his three narrators talk, and therefore was venting some personal rage-, I was disappointed by the treatment of the French aristocrat and had serious trouble with the accumulation of so many grammatically incorrect French sentences, bad spelling (even the Foreign Legion center of CASTELNAUDARY is spelt wrong!), and worse, historically incorrect facts (Mitterand did not immediately precede Sarkozy, for God's sake; Chirac did!), that I ended up wishing for the story to cut short. I forced myself to read until the end... Couldn't he run it by a French person before? I hope it will be the case for the second edition, if there is one.


    Philippe de Noyer (wrongly spelt Phillipe), as a Foreign Legion Officer and an aristocrat, would NEVER have divorced his first wife, Celeste. Mr. Girardi must not have met with the beholders of aristocratic traditions in France, to write such an implausible event in the life of a French aristocrat officer. Of course, he would never have let his first wife die as a homeless drunk either... This also totally clashes with the Legion's Code of Honor.

    And when it comes to the Legion, please! Mr. Girardi's research is extensive but relevant to the 19th century only. Nowadays, French citizens are welcome in the Legion, from the age of 17 nonetheless! The Legion is not accepting murderers anymore, the brothels have been closed in 1945,and even if it is true that the training is tough, it is now obeying the regular French Army training practices and has been doing so for a while.
    Mr. Girardi's Foreign Legion is one that does not exist anymore, except in his imagination, or his fantasies. It was not even my grand-father's Foreign Legion (and I am talking World War 1!). It is not Crime and Punishment anymore, and Mr. Girardi is NOT Graham Greene. Guilt and redemption??? Where?

    As for the shallowness or the depth of the characters, I will leave it to the reader. However, making the fake Iman responsible for all the massacres, beheadings, etc, a bored geeky American with a rich father and a radical nutcase for a mother, feels like "double-speak": is Robert Girardi trying to denounce the West (globalization, non-profit NGOs colliding with corrupt governments, Starbuckization/etc of the world) or is he desperately wanting to be Ralph T. Wade III?

    The Polisario/South Morocco, etc, is irrelevant, when it could have been a good political denunciation for other war areas where militias cut and kill (Darfur anyone?) He would have been better off choosing Kolwezi: at least the Foreign Legion was parachuted there for good.

    And the beehive kept bothering me until I remembered an early 1990s Claude Lelouch's movie in which the bees were a character, so much so that I kept asking myself whether Girardi took the idea from him...

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    Posted June 6, 2011

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    Posted December 26, 2009

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