November 05, 2007

Graham Robb discovers France in new book

France is not what it seems, at least to its own citizens. A survey carried out in the 1790s revealed that French, the language of civilized Europe, was spoken by no more than three million people, or 11 percent of the population, in France itself. More than six million French citizens spoke no French, and an equal number could barely sustain a French conversation. A century later, only about a fifth of the population said it was comfortable speaking French.

The Grand Canyon of the Verdon (Grand Canyon du Verdon in French), a deep, narrow incision in the Alps of Provence, is one of the great wonders of France. The Verdon River, a 175km long river in between limestone cliffs flows into the Lac de Ste. Croix, a delight for thousands of kayakers, hikers and camera-toting tourists. Yet until 1905, this natural wonder, located only 60 miles from Marseille, was known only to a few local woodcutters who descended into the canyon on ropes to cut boxwood, which they carved into high-quality balls for boules. Somehow the second-largest gorge in the world managed to hide in plain sight until the age of the automobile.

Graham Robb, a British author discovers France in his new book The Discovery of France - a land of secrets slowly divulged, a nation in name only for most of its history, fragmented by mutually incomprehensible dialects and deeply rooted regional cultures. France, in this brilliant work of history or biography if you like, dissolves under close inspection into a vast cabinet of curiosities, an endless series of counterexamples to the myth of a culturally unified nation and people.

Find This book at

Robb, the author of biographies of Hugo, Rimbaud and Balzac, writes in his introduction that he traveled 14,000 miles by bicycle all over France in the course of researching his book. Having reintroduced France to its citizens, it now owes Robb a fortune. Frankly!

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