A Stone for Bread
Miriam’s second novel A Stone for Bread, was nominated for North Carolina’s prestigious Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction in 2016. Published by Livingston Press of the University of West Alabama, the novel received a starred Kirkus review and was named a Kirkus Best Books of 2016. It was a 2017 Finalist in the International Book Awards, Literary Fiction category.
About A Stone for Bread:
In 1963, North Carolina poet Henry Beam published a collection of poems supposedly saved from a Nazi slave labor camp. The authorship controversy that followed cost Henry his university teaching position and forced the poet into decades of silence. Thirty-four years after the poems’ publication, Henry breaks that silence when he begins telling grad student Rachel Singer the story of his study year in Paris, how the naïve young American became entangled with fiery right-wing politician Renard Marcotte, his love affair with the shopgirl Eugenié and his unnerving encounter with the enigmatic René, the Frenchman Henry claims gave him the poems. A Stone for Bread moves back and forth in time from 1997 North Carolina to post-World War I France, to Paris in the mid-1950’s and into the horror of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.
From the novel’s opening:
The ash wagon carries its load to the river
gray residue of souls,
hanks of hair,
shoveled on blue water.
The men scattering the refuse
talk of football
how in ’34,
the Jew Sindelar failed to score,
how it might have come down had Guaita
not scrambled the goal off the post.
“A cheat,”one says,
leaning on his shovel.
“Guaita wasn’t Italian, you know.”
“The mud won it,” argues the other.
“If it hadn’t rained.
It’s a thing like that sometimes,
no more than a thing like that.”
they climb in the truck,
voices drifting away
like ashes on the Danube.
—translated from the French by Henry Beam
René was four years old when he buried a grenade in the garden behind his house. It was the summer of 1917 and there was war in France. Months before, soldiers had bivouacked in the village. When they moved on, René’s father went to join the fighting farther north. The boy’s grandparents spoke in hushed tones about Les Boches and guns with names, Big Bertha and Albrecht and one called the Distant Princess. René heard the booms from his bedroom window. He watched the sky flare with light. One morning a line of French soldiers passed through the village. That afternoon, his grandfather buried a tin box in a corner of the barn. The box held coins, a silver vanity set, two gold watches, a jeweled brooch belonging to a grandmother generations back, medals won by his great-uncle Albert in the war with Prussia. René held the small box, while his grandfather dug. He watched him place the box in the hole, tamp down the dirt and cover it with straw and hay bales. The next day, René buried his treasures, bits of metal and colored rock scavenged from the woods. His twelve-year-old brother Etienne found them in the garden a week later, when his hoe sliced into the grenade. Etienne’s arms were blown from his body and he bled to death quickly.
Of course, it was an accident. The notary who investigated sadly shook his head and reminded the family it was wartime. A dog could have dragged it in. René wasn’t told the notary’s explanation. He was, after all, a child and did not understand why his brother had died, what evil thing waited in ambush among the leafy turnips. Did it too have a name? Realization came to him only gradually, the way one’s hands go slowly numb with cold.