Picks and Pans Review: On the Black Hill

updated 01/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Bruce Chatwin

A young Welsh farmer in the late 1800s pursues the daughter of a minister. She is alone and penniless and, although he is much beneath her socially and has no education, she marries him. They set up farming on land called "The Vision." This remarkable novel by the author of In Patagonia focuses on a whole rural community, but mainly on the farm couple's identical twin sons, born in 1900. As children, they develop distinct but connected personalities. When one is stung by a wasp, it is the other who suffers. They have their own language (as old men, they never need to talk to communicate). The boys cannot be separated, and when one is drafted in the Great War, he is unable to function in training. On their 80th birthday a nephew takes them for their first airplane ride, and they look down on the area of their farm from the heavens: "The heather was purple. The sheep were the size and shape of maggots, and there were inky pools with rings of reed around them. The plane's shadow moved up on a herd of grazing ponies, which scattered in all directions." This novel is like a beautiful old quilt, made up of bright, vivid patches, with scenes that surprise and delight and seem absolutely true. (Viking, $15.95)

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