A nomad and a swindler embark on an eccentric road trip in this picaresque, philosophical novel by the author of The Man Who Planted Trees.
The south of France, 1950: A solitary vagabond walks through the villages, towns, valleys, and foothills of the region between northern Provence and the Alps. He picks up work along the way and spends the winter as the custodian of a walnut-oil mill. He also picks up a problematic companion: a cardsharp and con man, whom he calls "the Artist." The action moves from place to place, and episode to episode, in truly picaresque fashion. Everything is told in the first person, present tense, by the vagabond narrator, who goes unnamed. He himself is a curious combination of qualities--poetic, resentful, cynical, compassionate, flirtatious, and self-absorbed.
While The Open Road can be read as loosely strung entertainment, interspersed with caustic reflections, it can also be interpreted as a projection of the relationship of author, art, and audience. But it is ultimately an exploration of the tensions and boundaries between affection and commitment, and of the competing needs for solitude, independence, and human bonds. As always in Jean Giono, the language is rich in natural imagery and as ruggedly idiomatic as it is lyrical.
An NYRB Classics Original Deep in Provence, a century ago, four stone houses perch on a hillside. Wildness presses in from all sides. Beyond a patchwork of fields, a mass of green threatens to overwhelm the village. The animal world--a miming cat, a malevolent boar--displays a mind of its own. The four houses have a dozen residents--and then there is Gagou, a mute drifter. Janet, the eldest of the men, is bedridden; he feels snakes writhing in his fingers and speaks in tongues. Even so, all is well until the village fountain suddenly stops running. From this point on, humans and the natural world are locked in a life-and-death struggle. All the elements--fire, water, earth, and air--come into play. From an early age, Jean Giono roamed the hills of his native Provence. He absorbed oral traditions and, at the same time, devoured the Greek and Roman classics. Hill , his first novel and the first winner of the Prix Brentano, comes fully back to life in Paul Epriles poetic translation.
In 1910, while hiking through the wild lavender in a wind-swept, desolate valley in Provence, a man comes across a shepherd called Elzeard Bouffier. Staying with him, he watches Elzeard sorting and then planting hundreds of acorns as he walks through the wilderness.
Ten years later, after the war, he visits the shepherd again and sees the young forest he has created spreading slowly over the valley. Elzeard's solitary, silent work continues and the narrator returns year after year to see the miracle he is gradually creating: a verdant, green landscape that is a testament to one man's creative instinct.