In the final passage of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a man narrowly escapes starvation by feeding at the breast of a woman whose infant child has died. It is a punishingly beautiful combination of despair and hope with few peers in contemporary fiction. Brodeck, the prescient new novel by French author Phillipe Claudel, culminates in an equally moving but far darker scene that will haunt readers even as the book enchants them.
The story is set in a small mountain village where Brodeck lives with his wife, a young daughter and an old gypsy who rescued Brodeck as a child from the charred shtetl we see only in his hazy memories. The two make a ramshackle caravan, we presume through the mountains of the east, until they arrive in a remote hamlet somewhere in western Germany or perhaps eastern France. It is a place that centuries of cultural and linguistic blending have left ...
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