by Eric Fottorino
Gallimard, 290 p., € 19.50
Brun Danthôme belongs to that generation of peasants who do not make up their minds to seek medical help until it is too late. “Hard-witted and silent, with their thick hands and hearts hardened by the cold of restless winters”, writes Eric Fottorino. The verdict is ruthless: leukemia. And the cause pointed out. The use of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, spilled in whole cans, without protection, to boost harvests in the name of agricultural productivism. Mo, his son, has long opposed the deadly methods of his father who did not see that he was running to his doom, caught in “The noose of debt, milk and wheat that were no longer worth the sweat to produce”.
Their frequent clashes widen the gap in their mutual incomprehension. The son, keen on ecology and agronomy, “Rocked by poetry”, claims to respect nature; Brun painfully views Mo’s accusations as a denial of his years of pain and toil.
Brun had enthusiastically embraced the ideology of progress, as it was presented to him in shimmering colors. Tractor, expansion of areas, consolidation, mechanical equipment and use of chemicals. What were asked of the peasants in their new farmer’s clothes? To produce excessively to feed the planet. Brun had campaigned in a friendly Catholic peasant, traveled to Third World countries to help, to the United States to see and envy excess, while noting that the market had become its sole master. “Plowing, sowing, reaping, and starting over, breathing the fresh air, it was his life, he knew no better. Who had sacked this happiness? “
Silent shipwreck of the countryside
One morning arrives “a project director”, cunning to dangle an idyllic future to these peasants in distress, if they accept the installation of wind turbines on their land. Stunned by the astronomical sums promised him, Brun gives in, much to the fury of his son. He finds himself chained by a Machiavellian contract, the time to discover, weighted down with remorse, the brutality of the practices and the ravages of the blades of death, beheading the birds, disfiguring the landscape where he abandoned himself to “The contemplation of simple things that do not make noise. ” When an agro-food factory, ripolinée with the rags of a pseudo-ecology, sticks to their domain, it is more than Mo can bear…
Through this powerful, harsh and painful, poetic and vibrant novel, on the silent shipwreck of the countryside, Éric Fottorino delivers an impressive lesson for townspeople ignorant of nature and rural dwellers who have abandoned their centuries-old knowledge. For the price of this renunciation, farmers today live with the weight of loneliness, “That strange feeling of being locked in the open air”. With accents à la Giono, he defends a world in perdition which, from all eternity, was in tune with the rhythm of the seasons and the song of the world. What if Mo, inspired by the ancients, became the architect of the revival?
Brun is dying of not having followed the path of wisdom outlined for him by Suzanne, his wife, whose memory obsesses him, nor listened to the advice of agricultural unions: “When your son grows up, make him your brother. “