Jean-Luc Persecuted

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Jean-Luc Robille is about the unluckiest character in the annals of literature. A dull but decent and upright man, a farmer in Switzerland’s French-speaking Canton of Vaud, he tills the soil, milks his cows, and minds his own business, only to have his life turned upside down when he marries Christine, a fetching but amoral local girl. She gives him a son and two years of relative happiness, only to betray him by having an affair with her ex-boyfriend, Augustin.

JEAN-LUC PERSECUTED is a novel written by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz. Originally published in 1908, it has been saved from oblivion by Deep Vellum Publishing, a nonprofit literary arts organization, which commissioned an English translation by Olivia Baes and has released the book in a paperback edition.

H.F. Ramuz, whose other novels include “Farinet’s Gold” and “The End of All Men,” was a French-Swiss writer who achieved European fame in the early part of the 20th century with his realistic, poetic and allegorical stories of man against nature. Stefan Zweig called him “one of the great writers of our time.” Now, with this publication, American readers will finally be able to make his acquaintance.

JEAN-LUC PERSECUTED tells a short, tart, tragic tale. Jean-Luc tries to cope with his wife’s infidelity by giving her a second chance after she swears to mend her ways. He allows her to stay and treats her well, only to ultimately discover that she has been unfaithful once again. This time he gives her the boot and tries to raise his son himself. With the help of friends, he manages to succeed for a while as a single-parent (despite being hopeless at domestic chores), only to be betrayed again–-not by the wicked Christine but by life itself.
It would be giving away too much to explain exactly what happens to poor Jean-Luc; suffice to say it’s traumatic enough to drive the poor fellow mad.

JEAN-LUC PERSECUTED’s dark side is balanced by the author’s earthiness, humanity and love for the region of Vaud. A native of the canton, Ramuz knows everything about it: its hills and streams, its changing seasons, its wildlife and hidden beauties, its smells and sounds. He is equally wise and insightful about the men and women who eke out a living there: the farmers, blacksmiths, priests, carpenters, young girls and shepherds who comprise a community poor in material goods but rich in human and spiritual values.

These are the qualities that make JEAN-LUC PERSECUTED such an unusual and worthy novel.