From Publishers Weekly
Still divided by Roman walls, the Languedoc region of southern France, home to the Lascaux caves, cradles an endangered small-town and rural folk. Its people supported a highly effective Resistance movement during WW II and still maintain age-old traditions in a landscape dotted with empty buildings, from shepherds' shelters to shuttered castles. Poet, translator and journalist Merwin pays homage to the region in an enchanting book suffused with the meticulous lyricism and keen observation of his poetry. He visits chestnut forests and an ancient mill farm, tends a garden in a ruined village, investigates sinister events like sheep rustling and appreciates vernacular architecture from pigsties to Gothic churches. His portrait of a conniving, disdainful, down-at-heels nobleman, the Court d'Allers ("Fatty"), is full of wit. Another native, resourceful Blackbird, a wine merchant and hotelkeeper who resolves to teach his precarious trade to an indifferent nephew, seems to embody the spirit of the place.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Poet Merwin's long familiarity with rural southwestern France provides him with his subject here--for three slow, vagrant, and accomplished prose portraits. The first, ``Foie Gras,'' concerns a nobleman, the Comte d'Allers, known otherwise as Fatty, who's been down on his luck long enough to have developed a system for cadging, shoplifting, and deadbeating that has become the fabric of local legend. The second piece, ``Shepherds,'' is the most personal and the best: the pace of life and knowledge in the Languedoc, the mystery of one's neighbors, the feel of the land, the crops, the animals. ``Blackbird'' seems the most conventionally like fiction- -the portrait of an aging wine-dealer who's looking for someone to take over his business; Merwin here most memorably reproduces the laconic courtesy and pointedness of local speech. All three pieces require patience from the reader, and the rewards are less narrative than stylistic: Merwin remains the finest prose writer of American poets, with a special talent for describing the spatial: ``As we stood looking at it, to the east, the tracks out of sight below us began to ring faintly in our ears, and then the train appeared around a rise in the causse that did not look like anything at all but clearly the rest of the world was back there.'' -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.