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Melville: A Novel

Written by Jean Giono | Translated by Paul Eprile

In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece.
Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essay, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.

About the author: Jean Giono
JEAN GIONO (1895–1970) was born and lived most of his life in the town of Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Largely self-educated, he started working as a bank clerk at the age of sixteen and reported for military service when World War I broke out. He saw action in several savage battles, including Verdun, and was one of only two members of his company to survive. After the war, he returned to his job and family in Manosque and became a vocal, lifelong pacifist. With the success of his first published novel, Colline (Hill), which won the Prix Brentano, he left the bank and began to publish prolifically. During World War II Giono’s outspoken pacifism led some to accuse him, unjustly, of defeatism and of collaboration with the Nazis; after France’s liberation in 1944, he was imprisoned and held without charges. Despite being blacklisted after his release, Giono continued writing and achieved renewed success, with works such as Un roi sans divertissement (A King Without Diversion--forthcoming from NYRB) and Le hussard sur le toit. He was elected to the Académie Goncourt in 1954.


REVIEWS

For Giono, literature and reality overlap the way that waves sweep over the shore, one ceaselessly refreshing the other and, in certain wondrous moments, giving it a glassy clearness.
Ryu Spaeth, New Republic

This lyrical novel reimagines Herman Melville’s life and adds a hauntingly atmospheric spin….This isn’t your typical fictionalized life of a writer—instead, it’s an unexpected meditation on the convergence of two literary lives.
—Kirkus Reviews

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