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from Joel Stonington in The Onion — a review of The Serpent of Stars


Most people believe, not illogically, that a sunflower described on the page is never as tangible as the actual plant. Jean Giono’s book declares the opposite. Written in 1933 and translated for the first time into English with impassioned language that only a poet could pull off, this novel is an open door into the natural world. When Henry Miller read this book he wrote: “It is a land in which things happen to men as eons ago they happened to the gods. Pan still walks the earth. The soil is saturated with cosmic juices. Events transpire. Miracles occur.”

Perhaps the greatest miracle is how Giono makes nature tangible to the reader. His surreal language, fantastic stories, and descriptions of the gnarled hands of the shepherds in the great Sans-Bois wilderness make his fervent words believable. He harnesses with language the spirituality of the Earth and the sea. You may read this book in an office (“a prison of four walls and a cemetery of books”), but you too will became part of its world: “Those walls draw apart, open, like a huge flower, and a deluge of sky crashes down inside there.”

He writes in a way that doesn’t seem contrived, and his storytelling seals the deal. While many of his Surrealist compatriots were deconstructing the established forms of art, they also were tearing down necessary structure. Giono stays away from this anti-aesthetic pitfall by going back to oral tradition;The Serpent of Stars is, essentially, a modern creation myth, with poetry, art, and nature woven throughout. With its fresh perspective, poetic language, and love of the Earth, this short novel could have been written a thousand years ago or, possibly, yesterday.

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