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THE ROCK OF ARLES by Richard Klein


by Richard Klein

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9781478025726
Publisher: Duke Univ.

Arles, France sits at an intersection point of European history, and this quirky book examines the key turning points.

This is likely the first book authored by a geological formation, in this case by the plateau of limestone on which the French city of Arles stands. That, at least, is the explanation put forward by Klein, the author of Cigarettes Are Sublime, who jokingly claims that the Rock narrated the story of the town's history to him—in French, which the author then transcribed and translated. It’s a clever, inside-out technique that allows for a certain amount of speculation, as well as some clever banter between Klein and the Rock. “Nothing in the text should be considered reliable,” writes Klein. Arles is a crossroads city, wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River. Klein (and/or the Rock) frames the story around three Arles natives, each known for their independent views. Favorinus was a philosopher and orator during the Roman era, known for his erudition. Kalonymus ben Kalonymus was a Hebrew poet who became a crucial translator of Arabic versions of Greek works, returning classical thinking to Europe. Pierre-Antoine Antonelle was an aristocrat who changed sides during the French revolution and became violently radical. All three are largely forgotten by the outside world but are revered in Arles. The argumentative Arlesians, however, have a history of fighting among themselves, and the streets have run with blood more than once. The story takes some interesting detours, such as Klein’s account of the revolt against the Catholic Church in the 13th century and the history of the arena built by the Romans. Whether readers go along with the narrative trick or not, the book is an engaging, enjoyable read.

A brief but pithy, informative piece of work, representing a unique approach to history writing.