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The Wharf of Chartrons
|The Wharf of Chartrons
By Jean-Paul Malaval
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I cannot say I am super excited by the writing of the book. I didn’t feel there was enough flow to it, but it could easily be due to the translation. I suspect it’s much more alive in the original French.
But the book is very rich in its characters. The two main ones, David and Gaspard, are cousins and they come from 2 important families of vintners. They are very different from each other, one is quite rebellious, the other one more quiet, happy to work silently for hours in his vineyard.
They follow the steps of their respective grand-fathers, quite colorful characters, Octave and Eugène.
As is not unusual in small villages in France, there’s been some feuds going on for generations between the two families, and the younger cousins have enough of it: they are ready to forget all about these conflicts and pursue the art of wine-making further away.
The novel is about their decision to leave, and their adventure as they settle in the Bordeaux region and discover love, jealousy, and ambition. There’s a lot of deceit going on, including between the 2 cousins. You will follow their lives until some dramatic events that will lead them to even further horizons.
What’s really excellent about the book is how its is packed with historical events going on in the background.
Let me list the main historical events, as they appear in the book:
- L’Affaire Dreyfus
- The phylloxera epidemic, that decimated so many vineyards all over France
- How when you dig in France you can find really old amazing things, here ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa owned by a wine trader
- The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, with huge bribes for medals
- The beginning of major wine export from France to the Americas
- The crisis when cheaper and lesser wines were introduced
- The setting of important and very strict laws on wine names, still valid today
- WWI, and the French government moving from Paris to Bordeaux as long as Paris was threatened
- Spanish workers invited to replace French workers, sent at the war front
With all the history in the background, I really enjoyed reading about the main theme, quite familiar to me as I lived in a very small French village, of youngsters wanting to try their chance further away from their village of birth, and fed up with disputes going on for generations. These young men have to stand to their family, but when they arrive in their new place, they are the outsiders (in France, you could be called a foreigner because you were born in a village 15 miles away), and life is quite tough.
They meet all kinds of jealous and shady characters who offer their help in order actually to reap benefits themselves. Gradually, they are introduced to elite clubs full of Bordeaux influential people –you can indeed find these people in all the major wine regions, la Champagne not being the least of them.
And of course you will meet the famous Knights of the Tastevin, though I thought they were more popular in Burgundy, but maybe it’s just because that was the region where I lived for some time.
There are obviously lots of details on wine-making, with all the work implied at each step. If you wonder sometimes why wine is so expensive, read this book, and you will understand.
One detail surprised me: on p.299, talking about Laon [please pronounce the letters ‘aon’ here as in frANce], the region of Cévennes is mentioned. I reread several times the paragraph. It was not clear if the name of that region was referred to or another. The city of Laon is closer to les Ardennes, les Cévennes has really nothing to do with Laon. Maybe this is a typo that disappeared in the final edition of the book.
VERDICT: If you enjoy France and French wine, especially Bordeaux, get to meet David and Gaspard, in the fascinating period around WWI, rich with so many events, as they launch into wine-making, both following and distancing themselves from their ancestors.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
A family linked by wine and old rivalries sets out for new territory, during the turmoil of World War I.
David and Gaspard are cousins, bonded by family and their allegiance to their winemaking heritage. Parting with tradition and moving their vineyards near Bordeaux threatens to upset the family peace, but that’s only the beginning of their trouble. Short on funds, they are forced to team with a wealthy but morally corrupt engineer—though perhaps at a cost too high for the cousins…
Despite the odds, David and Gaspard succeed in making a successful wine, Clos-Marzacq. Along the way, they each fall in love, though not always in the best of circumstances. And now, to cement their successes, the cousins need to secure a stronghold on the Wharf of Chartrons, seen as the gateway to selling into England and America.
The Wharf of Chartrons exalts the passion of men who have a love of their land, and who are concerned about drawing the very best wine from it. [provided by the publisher]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jean-Paul Malaval was a journalist before turning to a career as a writer of local photography books and later fiction.
In 1982, he began what would become a long-term relationship with the publishing house Éditions Milan, in Toulouse.
To date, Jean-Paul Malaval has written ten works of historical fiction,
mainly based in the region where he grew up, the Corrèze, which is near the Dordogne.
Five of his ten novels have been published by Presses de la Cité.
He is loyal to his home region and has been mayor of the town of Vars-sur-Roseix in Corrèze since 1995.
Visit the wikipedia page on him [in French]
WATCH THIS BEAUTIFUL VIDEO
where Jean-Paul Malaval speaks
about the art of writing
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
What do you think the big deal is about French wine?
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