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by Henri Bosco translated by Joyce Zonana

Pub Date: June 27th, 2023
ISBN: 9781681377421
Publisher: NYRB Classics

French writer Bosco’s classic 1953 story is a charming ode to childhood and the joys of getting lost in the lush Provençal countryside.

“Now, all this took place a long, long time ago, and today I am very nearly an old man," says Pascalet, the narrator. “But for the rest of my life, however long I may live, I will never forget those early days when I lived on the water. Those beautiful days are still with me in all their freshness.” Despite his parents’ warnings and his inability to swim, young Pascalet can’t help himself: The beauty of the river and the surrounding woods and flowers beckons, and he can’t resist. He sneaks away from the crabby old aunt who’s watching him while his parents are away, takes a rickety boat out on the water, and soon befriends a young boy named Gatzo, who’s also a runaway. Together they explore the shoreline, play games, hunt imaginary beasts, fish, sleep under the stars, and discover the ruined chapel of Our Lady of Still Waters hidden among the reeds. Their idyll doesn't last; when they meet a young girl who says people are looking for them, Gatzo—who was in trouble when Pascalet met him—flees, and Pascalet is heartbroken at the loss of a new friend. But the two meet again because of a strange marionette show in a riverside village, later forming a strong brotherly bond. A small gem from Bosco (1888-1976), this book has been described as a French Huckleberry Finn even though a comparison with Thoreau’s Walden might make more sense. Pascalet’s seven precious days on the river result in a spiritual awakening that gives him a deeper connection to the natural world. “I did not know what a soul was,” he thinks. “At that age you do not. But I clearly sensed that this joy was more than my body.”

Bosco’s story carries readers into an innocent childhood world as easily as the current carries the boys on their adventures.