Jean Raspail, the novelist from Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Jean Raspail, the novelist from Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

A witness of the ways of living and the territories that went through for more than half a century, accumulating faithful material to enrich his novels.

Jean Raspail was the writer of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, more than any other one, a witness of the ways of living and the territories that went through for more than half a century, accumulating faithful material to enrich his novels.

Jean Raspail - CC wikimedia commons

After the end of the Second World War, Jean Raspail started a long series of trips that took him around the world. First to the United States, then along the American continent from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. In the spring 1949, “ in Paris I only left behind the draft copy of a four-hundred-page novel with a ridiculous title that had been rejected by all the publishing houses and a young lady that I thought I loved”(“Pêcheurs de lune”). With some friends he organized the American expedition, more than 40,000 km going through difficult conditions, a true challenge in 1951. The re-telling of this adventure was his first work published in 1952, with a simple title: Tierra del Fuego-Alaska.

Trip of Jean Raspail in Tierra del Fuego (1951-1952)

His first novel: “le Vent des Pins”, inspired in a trip to Japan appeared in 1958. Politically incorrect, nostalgic of old times, such as monarchy, the French writer was sometimes criticized especially about El desembarco (The disembark): el campamento de los santos (“le Camp des saints”1973) (The saints’ camp), his model novel in which the danger of the end of the world is discussed upon the arrival of hungry populations from under-developed countries… With a less political writing, Jean Raspail, frequently came back to South America, Patagonia.

Tierra del Fuego-Alaska (1952)

It is the re-telling of Jean Raspail’s first expedition full of unexpected events and anecdotes. “Here the rules of hospitality are the most beautiful of the world. We didn’t lose anything, just somewhere to be able to put up our sleeping bags and to eat some sandwiches. Fifteen minutes later, a “maître” with white jacket and black bow was leading us to a perfectly dressed table offering us the best dishes. Outside, the wind blew and the route was muddy, the horses brayed but in this English restaurant we believed to be anywhere else but in Patagonia… The estancia-owner told us about the latest news from Buenos Aires, last Gide’s work, that he had never visited Saint-Germain-des-Prés but knew it by heart […].”

El juego del rey (The king’s game) (1976)

Based on the geographical -Patagonia- and historical –Antoine de Tounens- reality, Jean Raspail created a novel universe mistaking the borders between imagination and reality, a universe that we can find in other science-fiction works. Back cover: “A child dreamed of a kingdom. A king –a legitimate king of Patagonia– lived alone in front of the ocean in a dilapidated fortress on the west, waiting for the heir that would inherit his dream together with his monarchy. He chose a child. He shared the mirages of Tierra del Fuego with him where, he may have never been but it was his whole life, even the essence of his being […]. This child transformed into an adult is the teller of the story the day after the death of Antoine IV, ‘king of Patagonia for the grace of Dios and the will of the aborigines of the southern extreme of the American continent’. […]”

Orélie Antoine de Tounens

Yo, Antoine de Tounens, rey de la Patagonia (I, Antoine de Tounens, King of Patagonia) (1981)

The novel-story of Orélie-Antoine 1st, lawyer of the region of Périgord, who was self-proclaimed King of Araucania and Patagonia in 1860. An extraordinary character that Jean Raspail described as spiritually adventurous. Great award to the novel by the French Academy.

Quién se acuerda de los hombres… (Who remembers men…) (1986)

Jean Raspail recreated the fate of the Alakalufs, natives from Tierra del Fuego whom he met one of the last survivors in his first trip. “This book is a novel. I wrote it based on historic testimonies, personal researches and different hypothesis. The absolute absence of modern sensitivity by those, especially Darwin, who were on some occasion in front of the Alakalufs, for five centuries, their incapacity to be in the “other’s” shoes has taken me to this novel. Through the heart and imagination was the only way that justice was done for this population that nobody has ever heard about. With the exception of José Emperaire. This investigator of the Man Museum dedicated all his life to the Alakalufs. […] The Alakalufs had different names throughout history but nobody knew how they were called before José Emperaire: Kaweskars, the Men. It could be believed that they did not have a true language but expressed themselves through onomatopoeias. Actually they were the owners of a very rich language and only the word were missing to express something funny and nice.”

“Pêcheurs de lunes” (1990)

It was written as a continuation of Quién se acuerda de los Hombres…, “Pêcheurs de lunes” goes over the world and pays tribute to the forgotten populations of Huron Lake, Japan. Raspail goes through Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, evoking this time the last Ona survivor.

Adiós, Tierra del Fuego (Goodbye, Tierra del Fuego) (2001)

“Fifty years ago, almost day by day, while navigating the Magellan Strait I saw an aboriginal boat through a rain curtain. Two men, three women, only one child and the embers inside a clay container: the last nomads in the sea, at the end of the world. This vision was never forgotten. It determined my existence. Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, the southern confines of Cape Horn had overwhelmed my thoughts, had called my imagination up to the point of making them the second mother land where nothing could stop the soul or the heart. He frequently went back there. He followed so many traces that ended up intermingled creating the plot of this book. You could see mysterious sailing ships, pirate vessels, queues of lost soldiers, enigmatic missionaries, runaway princes, disappeared populations, noblemen adventurers, survivors, knights going by… An illusionary theatre stage where the remembrances of the king of the eternity went very fast. This southern part of the southern part of my country. Nobody could reach me. » Patagonia, His Majesty Orélie-Antoine –o f which I am the general consul – who reigns for eternity. This south of tehs outh is my country. No one will catch me”.

What to read :
Jean Raspail’s website