Poet and novelist Sobin (Venus Blue, 1992) offers up a strange and serious love-tale imbued by the surreal—with results hardly less compelling for that. Professor (at the University of Avignon) of the rapidly dying Provenáal language, the methodical Cabassac finds his life changed from the day he takes home with him the beautiful Julieta, whom he first notices as she sits alone in the back row of his lecture auditorium. Julieta shares Cabassac's passion for capturing the last oral records of Provenáal, and the pair—now living together, though at first sexlessly, in Cabassac's ancient and enormous farmhouse—make weekend trips to remote areas of Haute Provenáe, speaking there with old men and women in order to capture what Cabassac calls "breath relics" of the dying language. One weekend, by a waterfall, they do make love, and from then on all is changed—first by Julieta's pregnancy, and then, before she delivers, by her death. Exactly how the crushed Cabassac will cope with his now-emptied life had best be left for readers to discover, though it does need to be said that only after making meals of the deeply buried, mysterious, and curiously atavistic truffles that he searches for on the ancient acres of his estate—only then is he able to dream of Julieta in ways even more rewardingly vivid than life. His contemporary life, indeed, is gradually left behind as Cabassac searches for his truffles, neglects his teaching, sells off bits of his estate (and then, disastrously, the whole thing), goes without electricity, then telephone, as he descends more and more deeply'symbolically? really?—into the lost antiquity that it seems now Julieta (an orphan) might herself in fact have arisen from. Not for literalists, but a symbolic-emotional tale that immerses the reader into the very air, feel, and texture of ancient Provenáe—and as a bonus serves up a fascinating handbook on the life and harvesting of the enigmatic truffle.
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