Fields of Glory
Jean Rouaud, a newsstand operator whose income was too small to tax, had never published anything before FIELDS OF GLORY. A surprise critical and commercial success in France because of its loving evocation of everyday life, the novel won the 1990 Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary award.
FIELDS OF GLORY is set in the lower Loire valley, a poor region where the incessant rain achieves almost mythic proportions. The anonymous narrator presents brief portraits of three important people in his life: his maternal grandfather, his grandmother, and his maiden aunt. These characters’ stubbornness and whims are described with fondness and compassion.
In old age, the grandfather lives as if in a fog. Blindly driving his automobile with its filthy windscreen, cigarette smoke pouring into his eyes, he is impervious to the outside world, lost in what his wife calls a secret garden of memories. The grandmother has endured decades of a loveless marriage arranged by her parents. She exists with a nagging sense that something has been lost forever. Aunt Marie is forced to retire after fifty years of teaching. Obsessed with death, having lost two brothers in World War I, she confuses the death of Joseph, the narrator’s father, with that of the uncle after whom he was named.
FIELDS OF GLORY is filled with haunting images. The most vivid is the paternal grandfather’s discovery of the site of Joseph’s unmarked grave thirteen years after his brother’s death and walking there in a snowstorm to dig bones from the icy earth. Reminiscent of Marcel Pagnol’s novels and films about Provence, Rouaud’s novel is understated but powerful. This beautiful translation was one of the last done by Ralph Manheim, one of the greatest translators of French and German fiction, who died in 1992.