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A Novel

by Jean Giono, introduction by Edmund White, a new translation from the French by Paul Eprile

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In the fall of 1849, Herman Melville traveled to London to deliver his novel White-Jacket to his publisher. On his return to America, Melville would write Moby-Dick. Melville: A Novel imagines what happened in between: the adventurous writer fleeing London for the country, wrestling with an angel, falling in love with an Irish nationalist, and, finally, meeting the angel’s challenge—to express man’s fate by writing the novel that would become his masterpiece.

Eighty years after it appeared in English, Moby-Dick was translated into French for the first time by the Provençal novelist Jean Giono and his friend Lucien Jacques. The publisher persuaded Giono to write a preface, granting him unusual latitude. The result was this literary essai, Melville: A Novel—part biography, part philosophical rumination, part romance, part unfettered fantasy. Paul Eprile’s expressive translation of this intimate homage brings the exchange full circle.

Paul Eprile was a co-winner of the French-American Foundation's 2018 Translation Prize for his translation of Melville.

edmund white

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681371375
Pages: 128
Publication Date:


An intelligent and moving translation by Paul Eprile...Giono’s book is, as Eprile maintains, 'A Novel,' a rich and haunting 'voyage imaginaire,' shedding light not just on its ostensible subject, but on its author, love and loss, and the process and calling of artistic extraordinary book which richly deserves this belated attention and fine translation.
—Nicholas Hewitt, TLS

A giddy fantasia on the life of Herman Melville…It’s a fetching little tale.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

For Giono, literature and reality overlap the way that waves sweep over the shore, one ceaselessly refreshing the other and, in certain wondrous moments, giving it a glassy clearness.
—Ryu Spaeth, New Republic

This lyrical novel reimagines Herman Melville’s life and adds a hauntingly atmospheric spin….This isn’t your typical fictionalized life of a writer—instead, it’s an unexpected meditation on the convergence of two literary lives.
Kirkus Reviews

Giono illustrates how an author’s artistic output enriches and illuminates his life, in ways that historical facts cannot provide...Giono expands Melville’s context, painting him as a transatlantic heir to Milton and Shakespeare. At the same time, he also expands Melville’s own influence, cementing his impact on French culture, which has been considerable.
—Adam Fales, Los Angeles Review of Books

Giono’s writing possesses a vigor, a surprising texture, a contagious joy, a sureness of touch and design, an arresting originality, and that sort of unfeigned strangeness that always goes along with sincerity when it escapes from the ruts of convention.
—André Gide, unpublished letter, 1929

Melville is a powerful testament to the magic of words.
—Edmund White, The New York Review of Books

After reading Pour saluer Melville, which is a poet’s interpretation of a poet—‘a pure invention,’ as Giono said in a letter—I was literally beside myself. How often is it the foreigner who teaches us to appreciate our own authors!
—Henry Miller

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