This vel begins with a funeral for a young mother: A good-looking girl, anyway, who with that coif of hers got to look rather like a nun as the years passed, and whom few of us were content to see lying between oak planks in her least worn dress, the black one she got into on Sundays, even when she couldn't go to Mass at Saint-Sulpice, and that smelled clean, with odor ( smoke, sweat, animals, cabbage or milk) other than the soap they said came from Marseilles and which in the spring left big bluish trails in the stream. They resembled the Milky Way, which she had showed her son in the summer sky when he was very small. Ambitious and grandiose, Richard Millet's stunning vel anunces his introduction to an English-speaking audience. Set in the villages and valleys of France's mountaius provinces, The Glory of the Pythres follows the fortunes - or rather, the colossal misfortunes - of the Pythres (prounced as pitres, the French word for clowns or buffoons). Of peasant stock, suspicious, taciturn, mulish, stubborn, the Pythres live a grim existence, locked up, with their dead through long winters and passing on their problems like heirlooms to their children. They, like their neighbors, are Others, their culture passing away, their language barely comprehensible to other Frenchmen, their lives defined by tribal hatreds with motives that have long since vanished into history. The translation is less ambitious than the vel itself. It captures this forgotten world in Millet's musical prose; it contrasts the strange patois of the villagers against proper French. Filled with finely observed characters and a breathtaking power of description, The Glory of the Pythres is a unique, powerful work of art.
Richard Millet was born in 1953. He is the author of nearly twenty other works in his native France, Including L'Innocence, L'amour des trols soeurs Plale, and L'Invention du corps de Saint Marc. He lives in Paris. John Cumming is the translator of Jean Giono's An Italian journey, published in 2001 by Northwestern University Press.