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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Alexander and Alestria

Shan Sa

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Title: Alexander and Alestria
Author: Shan Sa
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 245 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Alexander and Alestria - US
Alexander and Alestria - UK
Alexander and Alestria - Canada
Alexandre et Alestria - Canada
Alexandre et Alestria - France
  • French title: Alexandre et Alestria
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter

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Our Assessment:

C : grandiose Alexander the Great tale loses itself in its stilted language

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Alexander and Alestria is the story of Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known (to him) civilised world, as well as a woman who became the great love of his life, an Amazon-warrior named (T)Alestria ("My name is not Alestria, it is Talestria: the T represents the tribe of Amazons, the women who love horses"). They tell their own life-stories, which only intersect well into the book; (T)Ania, who serves Alestria, also gets some of the say.
       From the beginning, this is a story of sexual ambiguity, as Alexander describes being dressed up as a girl by his mother and notes that as a child: "I did not want to be a man". Sexual confusion is also common: "Are you a girl or boy ?" Alexander asks the first boy he runs into when he starts school, while when he first meets Alestria he's convinced she is a man -- while she has her doubts about him:

      "I am Alestria," he told me, "and you ?"
     I hesitated.
      "Are you a man or a woman ?" he asked me.
     His question amused me.
      "I'm a man, and you ?"
      "You, a man ? I don't believe you"
     Amazed by his reply, I repeated myself to remove any possibility of misunderstanding:
      "I'm a man, a man !"
      He leaped up and jumped over the fire, pushing me to the ground and putting his hand between my legs.
      "Zougoul !" he cried in horror and fled toward his horse.
       Zougoul ! indeed .....
       Pretty-boy Alexander was, in fact, also the sexual plaything of his father -- and would go on to also indulge in homosexual play (and rape): there's a lot of sex in this novel, but most of it is over the top (passion that can't be held back ...) and/or brutal, and little of it is in the least appealing.
       The tutelage of Aristotle (who barely figures in the novel) seems to help Alexander a bit, but it is that fine body he grows into ("Looking at my reflection, I no longer saw the timid girl with braided hair") and the warrior-spirit within that make him the man and leader he becomes. Still, he has his doubts:
     Who was I ?
      A weakling or a towering force ?
       Shan Sa chronicles the rise and triumphs of Alexander, and imagines some decent scenes, especially when he conquers Persia. Eventually he hooks up with warrior-princess Alestria, but it is a pretty bizarre romance. Still, what kills the book is the numbingly stilted language, and nutty, hurried scenes such as:
     Hephaestion had young Bagoas castrated, and was tender and patient with him while he healed, tolerating his insults and forgiving his attempts to murder him. One evening, when we were heading for Persepolis, he brought the youth to my tent, dressed in a eunuch's tunic.
     I tore of Bagoas's clothing. Naked and backed into a corner, my captive had only his fierce emerald eyes as defense. His stare was so intense it paralyzed my desire. Instead of raping him, I held out my hand and stroked his face, which was rigid with loathing and pain. Bagoas loved me ! That was why he suffered in silence.
       Zougoul !
       Alestria is a somewhat interesting figure, but in this mythical-manic presentation both lovers feel too unreal for the reader to care much about them or their passion. Perhaps this worked better in the French, but it really doesn't fare well in English.

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Alexander and Alestria: Reviews: Shan Sa: Other books by Shan Sa under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature under review
  • See Index of Chinese literature

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About the Author:

       Shan Sa was born in China in 1972 and moved to France in 1990. She writes in French.

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