Fields of Glory
This deeply moving little book comes to the reader softly, like a rainstorm of the lower Loire. Words patter on the rooftops and muddy the paths. They seep in everywhere with quiet persistence. There is nothing to be done about it, so one may as well take shelter in the nearest café and wait it out with a petit vin blanc or two. Rouaud tells not so much a story but a series of anecdotes, portraits of a passing generation: Grandfather and his decrepit but indefatigable Citroën 2CV; Aunt Marie, who addresses each church newsletter with impeccable calligraphy, and addresses her intercessions to the correct saint with the help of a handy card catalog. As the rain wears on—and we are on to our third or fourth vin blanc—we see that the book is less about these ancients than it is about two young men lost in the trenches of the Great War. The sadness of their slaughter lingers from generation to generation, fading from the raw shock of gas and shell and mud but living on in an elder’s peculiarities.
I particularly appreciated the translator’s approach to the work; Manheim wisely explains the more untranslatable idioms in a footnote rather than attempt an imperfect English alternate. A few pages of translators’ notes at the back suffice for all the cultural references a non-French reader would miss. Recommended for those interested in WWI and its aftermath, and especially for readers with a quirky grandparent or two.