A rich, lucid debut memoir of an American hippie’s adventures on a goat farm in southern France in the early 1980s, pieced together from the author’s journals.
Murray writes with grace, complexity and humor of the months she spent living and working with a farming family in France’s Languedoc region in late 1980 and early ’81. Jumping into farm life cheerfully, with no running water and limited French, Murray quickly learned to make cheese, birth calves and survive on one bath a week. With compassion and candor, she vividly paints the strong personalities of the farm’s family members and hired hand and deftly describes the relationship she developed with each one. These interactions are fraught with cross-cultural misunderstandings, language barriers or good old-fashioned dislike. But they’re also interwoven with kindness, humor, simple pleasures and the joy of shared work. Murray provides both bleak and beautiful descriptions of the climate and landscape, along with meditations on her spiritual transformation and purification in the southern French mountains. She portrays her beloved goats as well as she does the humans in the story; as she grew fond of her little flock, she struggled to confront the harsh realities of farm life. But just as readers will weep at the death of baby goats, they’ll also laugh at the comical portrayals of truffle hunting and relish the descriptions of simple Christmas festivities and evenings spent reading by the fire. They may also admire the author’s metamorphosis from a privileged preppie to a hardworking farmhand who herded goats during raging blizzards. The author gives the narrative a strong sense of place and time with continual references to the popular culture and politics of the day. At the end, this highly enjoyable book turns somewhat unexpectedly toward the tragic, which invests the memoir with a rare balance of light and darkness.
A welcome memoir of France that offers a complex mosaic of memories.