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Dominique Sampiero. Le dragon et la ramure. Lagrasse, Fr. Verdier. 1998. 57 pages. 59 F. ISBN 2-86432-295-1.

A monk illuminates the margins of an incunabulum of the twelfth century with superb artistry. He adds to the sacred texts a story of love and death, dear to the hearts of readers in the Middle Ages. The story can be read as a parable and conveys the monk's doubts whether to consider the hero of the story a saint or a man in the clutches of Satan by mingling monsters with leaves from the trees of Paradise in his illuminations.

Justin, a young orphan, is raised by the artist monk. The boy identifies so strongly with his mentor and holds him in such admiration that he does not learn to say "I" until the age of eight. Later, however, with Agate, the childhood playmate who is destined to become his one true love, he deserts the monastery to become a farmer. The discovery of the intimacy and tenderness of sensual love and of the beauty of the human body, in a setting of an earthly paradise, becomes a modern version of the Song of Songs. The young couple prepare for their wedding, which is clearly inspired by Brueghel's paintings. The wedding party celebrates life and its sensuous pleasures with an insatiable appetite for food, drink, dance, and love-a display of exuberant joie de vivre.

Unfortunately, the pure blue sky clouds over with a disaster that strikes the entire populace. A terrible drought parches the soil, and Justin, after having caught all available fish and fowl, stuffs earth into his mouth to still his overwhelming pangs of hunger, while providing the scarce morsels of food to Agate, who is expecting their first child. When all available food sources are exhausted, Justin writes a heartrending love letter to his adored wife and commits a frightful act that makes the reader, along with the monk, wonder whether to condemn or admire Justin's ultimate sacrifice. Who was Justin, a saint or a demon? What do we know of good and evil, of beauty and its triumph?

Dominique Sampiero is a born poet. He cannot suppress the poetry in his innermost being when he sets out to write prose. He goes against the trend of modern writing which turns readers into voyeurs, displaying unattractive details of the sexual act. Sampiero glorifies the beauty of the body and its sensual pleasures and thus perhaps helps the reader understand Justin's motivation. The young man simply had no choice.

Maria Green

University of Saskatchewan
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Green, Maria
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Previous Article:Claude Ollier. Missing. Paris. POL. 1998. 179 pages. 90 F. ISBN 2- 86744-638-4.
Next Article:Gerard Noiret. Toutes voix confondues. Dominique Fajeau, ill. Paris. Nadeau. 1998. 116 pages + 8 plates. 85 F. ISBN 2-86231-147-2.

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