Of Illustrious Men

Jean Rouaud, Author, Barbara Wright, Translator
Jean Rouaud, Author, Barbara Wright, Translator Arcade Publishing $19.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-55970-265-2
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The withered, pious Aunt Marie is still in the little house in the garden. French cars are still a problematic breed. And Rouaud is still one of the most capable chroniclers of French bourgeois life. Like Annie Ernaux, Rouaud excavates the history of one family from the lower Loire valley, but he does so with infinite tenderness. While the Prix Goncourt-winning Fields of Glory portrayed the maternal grandparents he knew and the paternal family destroyed by WWI, this volume depicts the narrator's father, Joseph. A responsible, capable and loving man, Joseph criss-crossed Brittany selling porcelain and glassware six days a week. On the seventh, he often packed his family into the car and indulged in his avocation-collecting rocks, mostly large, all meant for a fountain that was never built. Years of moving heavy boxes of samples-and stones-destroyed Joseph's invertebral discs and undermined his health. Again, Rouaud delves farther into Joseph's history, one as sharply determined by WWII as the earlier generation's was by the Great War. This story is, if anything, even more poignant than its predecessor, relieved by fewer lovingly recorded absurdities. Rouaud's images are always beautiful, and even the most banal scene has the warm luminescence of an autumn afternoon. ``When Monsieur So-and-So, who progressed with metronomic regularity from one bistro to the next, came staggering up to his last port of call, everyone knew that it was two in the afternoon... and that Madame So-and-So, his wife, had been waiting stoically since the end of High Mass, her handbag on her knees in the last remaining car parked in the square.'' (Nov.)
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