A new translation of an evocative, Huckleberry Finn–esque French bestseller about a young farmboy, the river where he is forbidden to play, and the adventures that ensue when he disobeys his family’s wishes. The Child and the River tells a simple but haunting tale. Pascalet, a boy growing up on a farm in the south of France, is permitted by his parents to play wherever he likes—only never by the river. Prohibition turns into temptation: Pascalet dreams of nothing so much as heading down to the river, and one day, with his parents away, he does. Wandering along the bank, intoxicated with newfound freedom, he falls asleep in a rowboat and wakes to find himself caught in rapids and run aground on an island where a band of Gypsies has pitched camp together with their trained bear. Hiding in the underbrush, Pascalet observes that the group includes a boy his age, who, after receiving a whipping, has been left tied to a post. This is Gatzo, and as soon as night falls, Pascalet sets him loose. The boys escape in a boat and spend an idyllic week on the river. But then the mysterious “puppeteer of souls” arrives, bringing their adventure to an end, and Pascalet must go back home to face the music. Has he seen the last of his new friend?
Long hailed as a sort of French Huckleberry Finn, The Child and the River is, as Henri Bosco himself once wrote in a letter to a friend, “a novel very good, I think, for children, adolescents, and poets.” A beguiling adventure story, it is also beautifully written, full of keenly observed details of the river’s wilds, well captured by Joyce Zonana’s new translation.
About the Author
Henri Bosco (1888–1976) was a French writer who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. His family was of Provencal, Ligurian, and Piedmontese origin, and much of his work focused on Provencal life. His novel Malicroix was published by NYRB Classics in 2020.
Joyce Zonana is a writer and translator. She is the author of a memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Journey, and her writing has been published in The Hudson Review, Signs, and Meridians, among other publications. She translated Henri Bosco’s novel Malicroix for NYRB Classics.
"[Full] of small beauties, like a multifaceted gem....a gentle, meta-fairy-tale about the imagination’s capacity to bring about the very realities it craves, whether we need friendship, adventure, salvation or love.... Zonana retains the conversational, diaristic qualities of Bosco’s prose along with the intensity of its noticings, clearly marking the subtle shifts when the external world of nature becomes the internal world of imagination." — Marco Roth, The New York Times
"[The Child and the River is] an idyllic adventure in which the boys rapture over the flora and fauna while living lives of simplicity and ease…which ultimately describes a boy’s rite-of-passage into young adulthood, responsibility, and friendship." —Tom Bowden, The Book Beat
"[Bosco] seems to have sought…to sweep the reader back into the vivid intensities of childhood, summoning the way that time stretches out so that a lovely morning becomes a golden age; evoking the ways that children can scare themselves on purpose, for fun; conjuring the suggestive powers of shadows and footprints and moonlight....In France, “L’enfant et la rivière” is considered as much a book for adults as it is for children. The same, one hopes, will hold true in the English-speaking world." —Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal
"The Child and the River brims with lovely nostalgic pleasures….The joy of The Child and the River comes from Pascalet’s gentle, limpid observations of his time on the river, which are generally free of intrusive, muddy 'adult' meditations." —Edwin Turner, Biblioklept
“A small gem from Bosco, this book has been described as a French Huckleberry Finn even though a comparison with Thoreau’s Walden might make more sense. . . . Bosco’s story carries readers into an innocent childhood world as easily as the current carries the boys on their adventures.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The poetry of this ecological tale lies in the balance between the power of the forbidden and a quest for the lost childhood paradise that Bosco sought all his life, in his writing and in his dreams.” —Le Temps
“Henri Bosco is the greatest dreamer of our time.” —Gaston Bachelard