Twenty stories in a first English translation, by the celebrated French novelist (Second Harvest, 1999, etc.), with an introduction by Henry Miller, in his day a fierce admirer.
Provence-born Giono (1895–1970) is probably best known in the US for his story “The Baker’s Wife,” made into a film in the 1930s. Although most of the pieces here, first published in France in 1932, are set in the hamlets and countryside of Provence, they bring us into a world that is dark, spiteful, and lugubrious: a world of hard-hearted peasants bent on squeezing the life out of their neighbors much as they squeeze oil from their olives. In the title story, for example, two starving vagrants climb down into a dangerously ramshackle well to repair a parish priest’s water pump—only to be reimbursed with less money than it cost them to take the bus to his village. The poor farmer of “Fields” allows his wife to take in a boarder to make ends meet—and soon discovers that the man is her lover. The blind beggar of “The Hand” describes how he lost his sight inexplicably during a religious procession when he was 20—and how afterwards the village girls would grab his hand unexpectedly and place it down their blouses. In “Annette, or A Family Affair,” an old man who years earlier had allowed his niece to be sent to an orphanage when her parents died makes a point of going to visit the man who has hired her to work in his shop—so as to warn him that she grew up among bad characters and may be dishonest. Even the father of the bride is unable to work up much in the way of generosity: In “Philemon,” a man makes his daughter slaughter one of his pigs on the way to her own marriage.
Small offerings from a master. Like Faulkner, Giono takes us into an unpleasant world shot through with strange and unexpected beauty.