The Violins of Saint-Jacques
by Patrick Leigh Fermor, introduction by James Campbell
An NYRB Classics OriginalPatrick Leigh Fermor’s only novel displays the same lustrous way with words as his beloved memoir of his youthful walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, as depicted in his travel trilogy: A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road. This slim book starts with the meeting of an English traveler and an enigmatic elderly Frenchwoman on an Aegean island. He is captivated by a painting that she owns of a busy Caribbean port in the shadow of a volcano, which leads her to tell him the story of her childhood in that town back at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tale she unfolds, set in the tropical luxury of the island of Saint-Jacques, is one of romantic intrigue and decadence involving the descendants of slaves and a fading French aristocracy. Then, on the night of the annual Mardi Gras ball, a whole world comes to a catastrophic and haunting end.
Mr. Fermor’s elegant rococo fantasy about a volcanic eruption on an imaginary Caribbean island is just close enough to reality to raise a genuine shiver—possibly even a genuine tear. In truth, it is a small timeless masterpiece.
—Phoebe Lou Adams, The Atlantic
A sojourn in the Caribbean inspired a travel book and a novella, set in 1902 on an island in the Antilles, about love and intrigue in the over-blown and over-mannered society of the French aristocracy...The Violins of Saint-Jacques is a masterpiece in the minor mode.
—Brian Vintcent, The Globe and Mail
[The Violins of Saint-Jacques] brings alive the glamour and the passions of the planters in their heyday. This tale of a whole rich island being destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the middle of a splendid planters’ ball is based on the true story of the annihilation in 1902.
—Robin Hanbury-Tension, The Telegraph
The Violins of Saint Jacques, filled with lush imagery and elaborate historical reconstruction, deserves to be more widely known.
—James Ferguson, Caribbean Beat
A haunting threnody for a vanished world as the sole survivor remembers the glow and decadence of the Mardi Gras balls on the night when her Caribbean island was destroyed by a volcanic eruption.