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The Lost Upland Hardcover – February 25, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (February 25, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679405267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679405269
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

W.S. Merwin is the 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States. He is the author of over fifty books of poetry, prose, and translations. He has earned every major literary prize, most recently the National Book Award for 'Migration: New and Selected Poems' and the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for 'The Shadow of Sirius.' He lives in Hawaii where he raises endangered palm trees.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Philip S. Griffey on March 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, by one of America's great poets, contains three written pieces, which are difficult to place into any particular genre. The inside flap refers to them as "narratives", but they don't tell a story - unless one reads them in a rather oblique manner. Jane Kramer calls them "stories" in her blurb, but they seem to be somewhere between fiction and memoirs. The first and third are written in the third person; the second in the first person.

While they have extraordinarily lengthy and detailed descriptions of the physical settings, it is the characters' actions, rather than their external appearances, which are observed closely. The actions are described in a detached and impassionate manner; any character judgements are implicit in the descriptions of their behavior and depend upon the reader's sensibilities. They are further nuanced by the character's age and social status and the morés of the geographic location (which is in an area of France between Bordeaux and the Rhone river - rich in history, but poor in natural resources).

I think I would classify the pieces as meditations on the depopulation of a rural area of marginal productivity, and its peoples' resistance to the harshness and waste inherent in the efficiencies of more modern techniques being imported by the corporate interests of the cities. The overall themes would be poverty (both material and spiritual), inertia, decay and mortality. Needless to say, there are not a lot of laughs.

The pace of the writing is as slow and as nuanced as the life of the rather insular inhabitants. It is also subtle, complex and beautiful in an austere way. However, when you are finished, you feel rather drained by the bleak existence to which you have been exposed - rather similar in feeling to studying a book of the photos Dorothea Lange took during The Great Depression.

Highly recommended for those not susceptible to dark moods.
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