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  1. Book ImageThe Fly-Truffler: A Novel

    Gustaf Sobin

    Out of the pungent soil and wind-struck orchards of Provence, this enchanting love story will make you believe, if you ever doubted it, in the power of love and the lengths people will go to keep it alive.

A Conversation with Author

Q: Could you speak a little about how you came to write The Fly-Truffler?

G.S.: I wanted to go under. I wanted to write about the deep, abiding, irreducible realities of a Provence that I’ve lived in since the early 1960s: well before, that is, the land itself underwent spoliation at the hands of speculators, publicists—the promoters, that is, of an idle, perfectly sterile economy. It’s not for nothing that my protagonist, Philippe Cabassac, wants to go under as well. Truffling, ferreting those pungent mushrooms out of the rich subsoil, he comes to unearth something far more than he’d ever anticipated: far more than he ever thought existed. Quite unwittingly, I might have done very much the same thing myself. For several months after I’d finished The Fly-Truffler, a dear friend of mine remarked how Cabassac in the truffle-induced dream sequence he enjoys with his dead wife, Julietta, is the very embodiment of Orpheus: or Orpheus in his underworld relationship with Eurydice. Unconsciously, I, too, had gone under a good deal further than I’d anticipated. A myth, ineluctably, awaited me.

Q: Does this often happen when you write? Do you discover things, that is, that you hadn’t intended?

G.S.: Only in those wonderful moments when the writing seems to dictate itself, when the words flow with a seemingly inherent knowledge of their own. When, that is, as a writer, I feel—momentarily—written. Then, only then, perhaps, do any of us have something to say.

Q: You remarked in a recent interview that “The Fly-Truffler isn’t about a year in Provence, it’s about an eternity.” What do you mean by that?

G.S.: Once again, it’s a question of getting under the publicized surface. The novel touches—or attempts to touch—on those underlying verities that aren’t subject to the whims and fancies of our present-day global economy. It speaks—or attempts to speak—of rootedness, of residence, of an ancient culture that even in its death throes manages to confer dignity upon its very own. In a sense, Provence, in The Fly-Truffler, is not merely a place but a state of mind. It’s emblematic of belonging. It brings Cabassac and his Julieta together under the canopy of a common denominator, a shared linguistics. “Here,” within the context of the novel, cannot be mistaken for “there,” nor the palpable, the sensorial, the veritable for the electronic pulsations of the virtual. Only in such a context as this, I feel, could an archaic tragedy such as Cabassac’s and Julieta’s actually take place.

Q: One might discern in your work two seemingly contradictory impulses, one toward the realm of dream and metaphor, and another toward immediate sensation like the smells of earth and the taste of truffles and the feel of the dank air of a rundown farmhouse. The latter seems to revel in the reality that the former tries to escape. How do you see these two realms reconciling?

G.S.: I don’t see them, first of all, as separable. One is an indivisible part, I feel, of the other. Dreams, epiphanous visions arise, it would seem, out of an intense perception of things physical. It’s the dust that instructs, the graceful line of a cheek that infers, directs, predisposes the intellect to reflection. Cabassac is a perfect case in point. Out of a meticulous reading of the earth, out of a strict respect for its particulars-the lay of a specific patch of frozen orchard, for instance, or the way flies dart over a truffle bed—he’s brought, bit by bit, to realization. In entering a set of self-imposed ceremonial gestures, he’s led—invariably—unto those blissful visions of his beloved. Granted, in Cabassac’s case this leads to folly, but it’s a folly in which the heart’s wildest aspirations find themselves fulfilled.

Q: You’ve written about Provence in a recent collection of essays entitled Luminous Debris. In that collection, your approach to the subject is archeological. How do you relate one to the other: Luminous Debris to The Fly-Truffler?

G.S.: Once again, it’s a question of delving, reaching beneath. Be it for truffles, archeological vestige, or—quite simply—those cherished moments deeply secreted within memory itself, reality—it would seem—lies at a certain depth. Against the present-day dust storm of interactive ephemera that we’re all subjected to, reality—it might be said—lies at a greater depth than ever before. Heraclitus once wrote that nature loves to hide. It does so, today, at a level of consciousness that can only be attained, I feel, by intense scrutiny and introspection. If Cabassac goes under, if archeologists in their examination of past civilizations work their way through so many successive strata, it’s only to resuscitate those lost realities, revive what might be considered quintessential. Once again, I suspect, it’s Orpheus at work. Once again, it’s the Orphic spirit within each of us, thrashing at shadows, making its own obstinate way through the underworld in an attempt to retrieve what it thought forever lost.

Q: Would you say, then, that The Fly-Truffler can be read as a kind of allegory?

G.S.: It’s a novel, first of all, that recounts the life of two distinct individuals living in Provence at a particular moment in history and the fate that, inexorably, befalls them. Underlying the specific circumstances of that very story, however, myth, archetypal dispositions, and yes, allegory itself might, perhaps, be found. Doesn’t it always, though, when the narrator does little more than follow the lines of the heart?

Q: Do you truffle—fly-truffle—yourself?

G.S.: No, but my son does. He has a wonderful eye and all the patience and concentration that that age-old earthen ritual requires. More than anything, though, he possesses the geomantic flair for such things. When the season is at its height, he’ll often return with his pockets bulging with those priceless tubers. He’ll let them tumble out onto the dining room table, black as charcoal and pungent as gardenias. He never sells them, though. As “gifts of the earth,” as he calls them, he gives them away to friends, family, immediate neighbors in the countryside. What else can you do, he explains, with something so generously given but give it, in turn, yourself? What else, indeed, any of us might ask ourselves?

About Gustaf Sobin

Gustaf Sobin is a poet and author of The Fly-Truffler. American-born, he has lived in Provence for nearly forty years.

Books by Gustaf Sobin

  1. Book CoverThe Fly-Truffler: A Novel

    Out of the pungent soil and wind-struck orchards of Provence, this enchanting love story will make you believe, if you ever doubted it, in the power of love and the lengths people will go to keep it alive.More

  2. Book CoverIn Pursuit of a Vanishing Star: A Novel

    Drawing on the life of Greta Garbo, Gustaf Sobin spins a masterful tale about the enigmatic nature of idolatry.More