FathomOnline

 

 Fathom July 1997

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Articles

Mark Anderson
Dan Clark
Jamie Reynolds

Haiku

Trevor Rockwell
Peter Morden
Anonymous
A. Bell
Todd Banks
Anonymous
Jennifer Reynolds
Nobu Adilman
Anonymous

Poetry and Prose

Mary Kate Arnold
Anthony Quinpool
Dan Walsh

Artwork

James Matthews
Mitchell Weibe
Siloen Daley
Jamie Reynolds

[PDF]

Jamie Reynolds

 

 

The Man Who Planted Trees By Jean Giono

Translated by Norma Goodrich with wood engravings
by Michael McCurdy. Chelsea Green Publishing.

     Jean Giono’s works are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Everyone is aware of the fantastic effect death can have on an artist’s success, but there’s more than that at play here.
     Giono is a master of a kind of writing that is being looked upon favourably once again: the narrative. Straightforward story­telling, with that wonderful device we call the first person, is com­ing back into favour in the lamp-lit circles of the literati. Maybe people are hitting the limit of the post-modem conundrum, or else they’re anthropologically re-examining a style of writing that has it roots so close to good old oral tradition. Whatever the cause, the effect is that spinning a good yam is again becoming both magical and hip.
     Giono himself writes with almost Hemingwayesque syn­tax: mostly short words in uncomplicated sentences that stick to the point. There’s also a touch of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; that friendly aura of the fireplace with Uncle Jean telling a story. It drips with a worldly wisdom but is flavoured heavily by humility.
     The story is not an overly provincial or quaint one though. Giono describes how, on repeated journeys to the barren regions of France’s lower Alps, he charted the progress of a growing forest. The woods are the result of thousands of trees planted over many years by a lone and reclusive shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier. One per­son sets out to initiate a change of incredible proportions, armed only with determination and self-assuredness.
     Bouffier is the hero of the story in every sense of the word save one: he does not become the target of glorification, only of admiration. Despite the fact that his work is on the scale of the epic, Bouffier remains very human and humble in light of his accomplishment.
     This edition of Giono’s story is accompanied by the hauntingly dark woodcuts of Michael McCurdy. About ten years ago, Jean Robert’s translation of the story was made into an animated Radio-Canada short film (which won an Oscar) and a book, both illustrated by Frederic Back. As in the current edition, pictures served only to heighten the impact of Giono’s narrative skill.
     The tale has been adopted as an inspiration for reforestation efforts worldwide, but seems to defy being appropriated for a specific environmental or political group or agenda. That’s because the story is about the silent and egoless toil of one man; it is spiritual without being religious; powerful without resorting to gushing sentimentality.
     In his choice of setting, Giono’s strong sense of regionality does show through, and his liberal voicings to “God” do place the work within a specific worldview. But Giono’s treatment is unobtrusive, and these aspects only serve to strengthen the works general appeal. Although the seed of the story is planted in Provence, it germinates into readers’ minds allover the world; Giono’s narrative has a universality that doesn’t dilute its aesthetic in the slightest.

The copy of the book reviewed here was generously provided by the Attic Owl Bookshop, 5802 South Street, in Halifax.

 

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