Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyStilted language aspiring to fairy-tale simplicity combines with ridiculous plot developments struggling to be fantastical to sink this French antiwar novel. The Peniels, a Flanders family living on a river barge through the Franco-Prussian War, WW I and WW II, suffer a series of misfortunes. Inasmuch as the narrative can be said to have a central character, it is Victor-Flandrin Peniel (also known as Night-of-gold-Wolf-face, because of a yellow spot in his eye), whose slightly demented father hacks off two of his fingers at age five to ensure he'll never be drafted. During the course of his life, Victor-Flandrin buries four wives and sires 15 children, none of whom seem to particularly interest the author. The breadth of Germain's narrative range can be judged by her use of the phrase ``quince and vanilla'' five times in 40 pages to describe a smell or taste. This is the first of her five novels to be published in English, and the translation does her no favors; the prose is as awkward and displeasing as the redundant imagery. (Nov.)
Library JournalAlthough young, Germain has won literary prizes, including the Prix Femina, for her five novels and one collection of short stories. Her first work to appear in English traces the history of the Peniel family from the late 19th century through World War II in rural France. Primarily the story of Victor-Flandrin (nicknamed Night-of-Gold-Wolf-Face because of the hereditary gold fleck in his eye), it also follows the lives of his four wives, who all die tragically, and his 15 children, who all have the gold fleck in their left eye and include one set of triplets and six sets of twins. Though the Peniel farm thrives, the family is struck repeatedly by personal tragedy, most of which is brought on by the wars they endure. Germain's writing, which has a poetic, surreal quality, can be sensuous and beautiful but often reaches the bizarre and grotesque. For academic audiences.-- Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Md.
Donna SeamanGermain, already highly regarded in Europe, makes her American debut with this strange and wonderful family saga. Although Germain's novel couldn't be more European in theme, it does remind us, in style, of "One Hundred Years of Solitude". It begins, peacefully enough, on a river barge owned by a family named Peniel, but soon war begins circling like a stalking beast. Peniel senior is drafted to fight in the Franco-Prussian War, an experience that leaves him mad and deformed, and successive generations are cursed with the legacies of random violence. With his daughter, Peniel begets a son, Victor-Flandrin, a magical boy with a gold-flecked eye. When he comes of age, Victor-Flandrin, in the tradition of all good fairy tales, sets off to seek his fortune and ultimately marries four times and sires 15 children. Their stories, in turn, are driven by eccentricity and surges of inexplicable events, but no amount of magic or love can keep the Peniels safe from the murderous engines of the world wars. As Germain regales us with accounts of miraculous births and horrific deaths, and grand passions and follies, we recognize the brutal battle between the forces of convulsive change and life's most basic, unassailable cycles. The Peniel story will continue in Germain's "Night of Amber".
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