Review of 'Célestine: Voices from a French Village'

Review of 'Célestine: Voices from a French Village'

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On another occasion, when Mademoiselle Pagnard reminisces about her great-grandmother's cooking, Tindall writes, "And I too tasted in my imagination the creamy potato-cakes of a woman born around the time of the Battle of Waterloo."

Tindall's quiet humor enriches her text throughout. Noting the people's deeply held conviction that after death they surely would be reunited, she writes, "No wonder the Catholic Church in France at this period rather discouraged second marriages: the practical problems posed in Eternity by such temporal readjustments would hardly have been manageable."

And when she reads a 19th-century mayoral pronouncement that the church was "in a state of dilapidation . . . which might not only have an evil influence on the religious sentiments of the population but also endanger their security," Tindall writes, "In brief, the old, squat belfry looked as if it was going to fall down."

The author's lyric style brings past and present alive and unites them as one. Writing of a rural winter wedding: "I see it as one of those very cold, absolutely still days in central France when hoar-frost outlines every leaf, stem, twig and spider's web beneath a grey sky from which the sun does not emerge all day to break the spell on this petrified landscape."

Once, spotting Tindall looking through old minute books in the town hall, one of the villagers commented, "You've taken over one of our houses. Are you taking over our past too?" Tindall protested. "But you didn't want it! You could have done this research. But you haven't." The man relented. "Maybe we need you," he conceded. "Maybe you are giving our past back to us." And indeed she has--not just to the people of Chassignolles but to all who read her book.

Freelancer Emily d'Aulaire writes reviews from Connecticut. She and her husband, Per Ola, travel the world on assignment. They reported recently for Smithsonian on pastry chef Jacques Torres.


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