DEGUIGNET Jean-Marie - Preview of Memoirs of a Breton Peasant, Linda Asher
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« Memoirs of A Breton Peasant combines the discovery of a fascinating document of nineteenth-century history with an extraordinary life story. As lively as an adventure novel, the account bristles with the curiosity of an alert, opinionated autodidact from the very lowest level of peasant society, as Jean-Marie Deguignet moves through the world of his time. Most records from nineteenth-century Brittany are the chronicles of and by the middle and upper classes-the formally educated, the advantaged. Deguignet is unique not only as a reading and writing peasant, but in his skepticism regarding the Church; his interest in science, astronomy, and languages; and in his keen-often caustic-observations of the world and people around him. Born in 1834 near Quimper, in Brittany, to landless farmers, the young Deguignet was sent out several times a week to beg for the family's food. After some adolescent years as a cowherd and a domestic speaking only Breton, he left the province as a soldier, avid for knowledge of the vast world. He taught himself Latin, then French, then Italian and Spanish; he read history and philosophy and politics and literature. He was sent to fight in the Crimean war, to attend at Napoleon III's coronation ceremonies, to support Italy's liberation struggle, and to defend the hapless French puppet emperor Maximilian in Mexico. He returned home to live as a tobacco farmer, falling back into dire poverty. Throughout the tale, Deguignet's freethinking, almost anarchic views put him ahead of his time and often (sadly, for him) out of step with his fellows. Deguignet's voluminous notebooks, written from 1897 to 1904, have sold over two hundred sixty-five thousand copies to date in France. Linda Asher (Translator), former fiction editor at The New Yorker, has previously translated into English Restif de la Bretonne, Victor Hugo, George Simenon, and Milan Kundera. The last book she translated for Seven Stories, Martin Winckler's The Case of Dr. Sachs, won the French-American translation prize in 2001. »
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