THE STONES OF BALAZUC: A French Village Through Time

John Merriman, Author . Norton $26.95 (422p) ISBN 978-0-393-05113-1

Acclaimed Yale historian Merriman (A History of Modern Europe) has written an exhaustively researched and valuable chronicle of Balazuc (where he spends part of the year), using the small village in south-central France as an excellent lens through which to view larger economic, social and political aspects of French history. Merriman begins by describing the village's geography: because of its rocky soil and often violent weather, Balazuciens have had to work tirelessly, and against the elements, to eke out a meager existence. Merriman then details Balazuc's long history back to about A.D. 1000. In the 14th century, the infamous "Black Death" killed over a third of the local population, and because of the crucial influence of the Catholic Church, the town has historically been more conservative than the rest of France. Yet in 1789, as part of the national crisis, the men of Balazuc drew up a list of grievances, calling for an end to burdensome taxation and feudal obligations. The revolution, especially its anticlerical leanings, fractured the village for years to come. Meanwhile, the local economy was revolutionized by the silk industry. The silkworm harvest became the crucial event of the year and, for a time, made Balazuc prosperous. The silkworms, however, were devastated by disease in the late 1840s, and the town began a long decline. The advent of the 20th century, with its devastating world wars, accelerated Balazuc's decline, and the local dialect, or patois, slowly disappeared. While some of Balazuc's history is unique, much of it reflects on larger themes of French history. As such, Merriman's vivid account should appeal to those with an interest in French history, especially its rural aspects.(June)

Reviewed on: 04/01/2002
Release date: 06/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-393-34496-7
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