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Gorgeous East: A Novel Hardcover – October 13, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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Editorial Reviews

From 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.


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



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312565860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312565862
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,250,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Robert Girardi has served up another wonderful read after a 10-year hiatus, and frankly, it was too long in the coming. Girardi, as always, proves he is a real writer, one whose imagination soars and creates amazingly rich worlds of characters, plot, and story that make his readers forget temporarily who they are. Gorgeous East is just such a book. Though I knew it would be a tough journey, I wanted to crawl inside the world painted so richly by Girardi and travel its sometimes romantic, sometimes dangerous, always intricate landscape without a map, a guide, or a traveling companion. I wanted to sit in his French cafes, feel his North African heat on my face, brace myself against the attacks of his marauding savages. And then put the book down and be safely back in my room. Only a master storyteller takes you there, fear and all. Girardi not only is a master story teller, but his characters seem to already be latently living in the back of my mind. Girardi simply gives them the voice and heart they would never have known had he not infused them with life. In short, Girardi's stories get inside you and stay there, leaving you well-fed and enriched. Read this book, heck, read all of Girardi's books. He's a gift of our time and should be enjoyed now so we can encourage him to open up his treasure chest of genius and extract even more literary riches from within.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First and foremost I have to recommend this book for the sheer beauty of Robert Girardi's writing. It leads me to believe that not all is lost for the english language in our twittered and withered culture. A deeply atmospheric novel with sweeping backdrops that take us from Mont St. Michel to Paris, to Istanbul and the Sahara desert, the story is still a chamber piece or a tightly woven drama that tells the story of three very different men, all bound by their fate in the foreign legion and ultimately by their love for the same woman. While the character of Louise, the woman of their hearts, pervades the story like a ghost and very much stays in the background, it still dominates the tragic, yet sometimes comic fakes of the three very different heroes of the story. Captain de Noyer is Louise's husband, an elder statesman with a love for Eric Satie's music, who is slowly loosing his mind by lack of sleep and due to a hereditary illness. Smith is a hard-luck actor from New York who is washed to the gates of the Legion by an ill-fated love affair. Pinard is a tough guy french-canadian for whom the Legion is the only family he has ever known. Their fates are linked by the Legion and by their love for Louise. This book is a classic drama that you will want to read more than once, already for the wonderful language
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Format: Hardcover
Many years ago I stood beside Robert Girardi on the steps of the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on a grey winter afternoon and we took our vows with the solemn declaration that we would set our hearts upon writing books that brought meaning to peoples' lives, books that stubbornly deprived this world of some of its indifference and it's loneliness, and though we would end up in the American gutter with no pension plan or money in the bank with all the other broken and glorious poets, we trusted in the true God of words and time, and believed that our lives would be redeemed by the sentences we left behind. Gorgeous East is a feast of luminous sentences which carry the reader into a deep and indelible understanding of love and loss. It will teach you everything there is to know about the exquisite glory and the horrible destruction men and women heap upon one another as they travel the gaudy boulevards of desire and the low lit alleyways of doubt. It is a modern masterpiece and the vindication of Girardi's vow. DJS
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps you wouldn't expect that a book described by its author as an "entertainment" (see Author's Note) would lead the reader into serious self-reflection, but here it is: Gorgeous East by Bob Girardi.

First, it is entertaining. Girardi's craftsmanship is evident on every page. We see not only the characters, but the street they're walking on, the bar they're sitting in, even the way the sun shines through a window. With all the details of the places, along with the crisp dialogue, I found myself actually watching a movie in my mind as I read. I followed with eagerness the stories of three French Foreign Legionnaires: Colonel de Noyer, John Smith, and Captain Pinard. I did not want to put the book down-and I did only to return to work one day, to sleep one night, but with the intention of getting back to the novel as soon as I could. I was drawn in immediately to the three men's stories: the past events that led them to join the legion, the histories of their families, their relationships, battle scenes, love scenes, escapes, rescues. This is an exciting novel.

And it's a serious novel. Just as beautifully as Girardi paints the physical landscape within the novel, he also gives us intimate details of his main characters' minds and hearts. These are men struggling with painful memories of childhood and terrible sins, but at the same time longing for love and meaning. As I read, I began to reflect on my own past and the decisions I have made. The novel, on one level it seems to me, is asking what makes a person who he or she is. One cannot deny the influence of family and environment and biology, and certainly the choices one makes shapes one's personality. But is this it? Can one change and head down a new path, despite the weight of the past?
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