The Foundling Boy

Written by Julian Evans (trans.) Michel Déon
Review by Eileen Charbonneau

Told in a casual omniscient viewpoint, the story harkens back to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. Found on the doorstep of a Normandy estate caretaker and his wife in 1919, Deon’s foundling, Jean Arnard, comes of age between the world wars. Like Tom, Jean grows up honest, smart, tormented, envied, handsome, lusty, and always ready to absorb knowledge. The characters who revolve around him – his parents’ employers, the friendly family priest, and many women of all ages – teach him about manners, sex, and many ways of communication.

Full of sensuality, Gallic wit, fatalism, and an eye on politics even in its mostly pastoral setting, Jean’s adventures take him to Germany, England, and Italy. But The Foundling Boy is not the life of the Lost Generation of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein, but more picaresque. Although illuminating left/right politics, its hero is an innocent in the Rousseau mold. His bicycle gives him entry into a world of characters and storytellers of all classes and philosophies. Born at the end of the “war to end all wars,” Jean Arnard is left on the cusp of his adulthood, facing another one.

It’s a great cause for celebration that, thanks to the excellent translation of Julian Evans, English- language readers can now at last revel in the pleasures of The Foundling Boy.