cover image The Plateau

The Plateau

Maggie Paxson. Riverhead, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-59463-475-8

Anthropologist Paxson (Solovyovo) considers what it means to be good in this lyrical, complex, genre-melding exploration of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in Southern France, a region with a long tradition of offering refuge to those in need. She relates the parallel stories of her own contemporary experiences on the Plateau with the 17 months during WWII when idealistic teacher Daniel Trocmé helped displaced children until he was captured by the Nazis. On the plateau now is one of France’s 300 centers where asylum seekers are housed while they wait for their cases to be considered. As Paxson becomes enmeshed in the community of the plateau, where asylum seekers come from Albania, Congo, Russia, and other countries, what begins as anthropological study evolves into something far more personal; she writes movingly about the refugees she meets, including fiercely protective yet affectionate mother Dzhamal, who showers children with kisses, and about Trocmé, whose trail she physically follows to the site of his death at the Majdanek concentration camp. History, memoir, profound soul-searching about peace, and meditations on the moral limitations of observation (rather than action) are woven together with dreamlike sequences imagining the lives of victims whose fates aren’t on historical record. The beautifully written, often heartrending narrative is as unforgettable as the region and individuals it brings to life. [em](Aug.) [/em]