Robert Merle’s The Brethren, originally published in French in 1977 and newly brought out in English by Pushkin Press, is a gentle epic of early modern France. Set in sixteenth-century Périgord, its “concentric” focus scales out to encompass the nation as a whole, and the world beyond, in a time of serious religious and political controversy.

The eponymous brethren—Jean de Siorac and Jean de Sauveterre—are two former warriors, fast friends who adopt each other legally as brothers and establish an estate at the Castle of Mespech. Significantly, they are men of Calvinist convictions who declare themselves as Huguenots during a time of bitter religious strife and civil war. The story is told by Siorac’s younger son, Pierre, then an impetuous and brave boy, who, now much older, is...


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