Memoirs of a breton peasant
A bestseller in France
This memoir by a freethinking peasant & soldier at the turn of the nineteenth century offers an extraordinary view of an otherwise unseen world. Memoirs of a breton peasant marks the discovery of both a compelling historical document and a quirky, ranting, yet utterly charming tale of an extraordinary life. Extracted from hundreds of journal notebooks kept by one J.M. Déguignet and discovered in a farmhouse in Brittany a century later, the books is written with the liveliness of a novel and the refreshing observations of an autodidact from the lowest socioeconomic tier. Born in 1834 to an itinerant farmer father, the young Déguignet was sent out several times a week to beg from the family’s flour. After spending his teenage years as a domestic and a cowherder, he left Brittany as a soldier, participating in the military campaigns of the Second Empire. He indulges himself and thus the reader in his antipathy for the church, his interests in science, astronomy, languages and travel, and his keen often caustic observations of the world and people around him. Throughout, Déguignet’s freethinking, almost anarchic views, show him to be ahead of his time yet, sadly for him, often out of touch with his fellow man.
Edited by Bernez Rouz and translated from the French by Linda Asher, this is an exceptional and exceptionally entertaining story.
In May 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Linda Asher, a former fiction editor at The New Yorker and acclaimed translator of French literature from Balzac to Hugo, the 2020 Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation.
Asher is particularly known for her translations of the works of Milan Kundera. Of her work, committee member Terry Tempest Williams had the following to say: Asher is singular in her ability and plasticity of language to convey what the original intent of the writer had in mind. She makes “reading between the lines” synonymous with “translating between the lines.” It is not only her great alacrity of mind and skills that bring her translations into a heightened state of elegance for the reader and commonness, but her curiosity with words and what they mean to the soul of a particular writer or discipline or culture. I find her translations thrilling, rigorous, and full of wit and enthusiastic depth.