My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now
By Peter Mayle. (Alfred A. Knopf, 179 pages, $25.)
Many a reader has reveled in Peter Mayle’s musings on the expat life in southern France since “A Year in Provence” arrived in 1989. It’s only fitting that he give us one more taste in “My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now.”
Mayle set a new course for travel writing with his self-deprecating account of an English couple’s adventures fixing up a home in a culture that does not mark time like Big Ben. Other installments followed as he and his wife, Jennie, learned French, made friends and became part of the Provençale community.
This 25-year retrospective serves up the cozy cafes, refreshing rosés and joie de vivre that drew many people in Mayle’s footsteps to the sun-washed Luberon region. While he marks the passage of time, Mayle avoids the then-and-now measurements that usually fault the “now.”
“Memory is at its best when it’s selective, when we have edited out the dull, the disappointing and the disagreeable until we are left with rose-colored perfection.”
He reflects wryly on the celebrity that Provence brought him — and drew a particularly memorable journalist to his door, “a serious young man who came armed with questions I’d never been asked before. What was my father’s occupation? Where had I gone to school? Did I have any children?” Mayle asked the young man where this interview was going to appear.
“ ‘Oh, didn’t they tell you?’ he said. ‘We’re preparing your obituary.’ ”
Now that Mayle has died (in January at age 78), regular obituaries must pale in comparison to this well-loved writer’s contented recap of a life well lived.
By Richard Wagamese. (Milkweed Editions, 321 pages, $15 paperback.)
Near the end of this perfectly beautiful, heartbreaking novel, its endearing but elusive protagonist, Saul Indian Horse, reveals a secret that is shocking yet predictable to any close reader. The genius of it is that he, too, has had to discover the truth that is revealed, and so we discover it together.
Saul’s story opens as he sits in an alcohol rehab sharing circle, head bowed, silent, but willing to listen, a little, when a counselor suggests he write down the things he finds unspeakable. In stark, crystalline prose, he spools out his story. He was born into an Ojibwa family in Manitoba in the early 1950s and lived in the old way until his troubled parents disappeared and his grandmother led him through a blizzard into what she hoped was a safe place. From there, he was taken to a school for Indian children that sought to annihilate everything they ever knew, everything they are. There he found a wisp of redemption in his obsession for playing hockey, and his skill at the game shaped his path to adulthood.
This flawless novel, written in 2013 and newly published in paperback by Minnesota’s Milkweed Editions, is an epic tragedy graced with tendrils of hope. Tragic, too, is the reality that its gifted author, Canadian Richard Wagamese (b. 1955), is no longer with us, having passed into the mystery in 2017. We are indebted to him for all he wrote, and especially for this book, a powerful fictional illumination of a Native North American life that echoes so many real ones.