cover image Great Fear on the Mountain

Great Fear on the Mountain

Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, trans. from the French by Bill Johnston. Archipelago, $22 (250p) ISBN 978-1-953861-82-5

Nature’s terrifying power is on display in a new translation of this breathtaking 1926 novel from Swiss writer Ramuz (1878–1947). The people of an impoverished mountain village decide, after fierce debate, to make up for their dwindling resources by using a high-up pasture where, according to lore, a group of their townsfolk met a terrible fate 20 years earlier. Six men and a 13-year-old boy ascend to the pasture with provisions and 70 cows. Their plan: to last the summer in that remote place, tending to the animals that sustain life in the village. Once they reach the pasture, a member of the party who survived the earlier expedition tells the others of the horrors he saw back then, among them a man who turned “all black and swollen” and died after a splinter got stuck in his thumb. The cowherds soon face horrors of their own, as sickness decimates the cattle and one of the men shoots his hand off in a strange accident. Lush prose (snowy mountain peaks seem “made of metal, of gold, steel, of silver; making all around you a sort of jeweled crown”), and profound insights about the insignificance of human life and the force of superstition pave the way to an earth-shattering finale. This thrilling tale has a timeless potency. (July)