Book Review: The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

Liam Maher-Eyears
April 21, 2023

Genre: French Literature (Short Story)

Content Warnings: mentions of war

Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: a short, uplifting and positive read that showcases the innate power of each of us.

‘ . . . I am convinced that in spite of everything, humanity is admirable.’

Ever thought about the power of trees? Or maybe it’s not even that, maybe I want to know if you’ve considered the power of a seed? I don’t think I had considered it in too much detail, but this short, sweet read by French author Jean Giono tells us a pointed tale of the chronicles of a shepherd's small action of tree planting that went on to transform the land, its people and the world it was entrapped by.

‘Creation seemed to come about in a sort of chain reaction. He did not worry about it; he was determinedly pursuing his task in all its simplicity . . . ’

Giono pulls us into his anti-war, pro-climate, pro-people fairytale, as our wandering narrator meets an old shepherd in his hut before the outbreak of World War I. What follows is a beautiful tale of perseverance, dedication and enduring passion. Without giving too much away (although it is in the title . . . ) our shepherd is planting 100,000 acorn seeds across his infertile land, and as time passes and the narrator continues to return to visit the old man during the World War. Ultimately, for three more decades we get to observe the drastic change of this unremarkable land into a fruitful center of a thriving local population, protected by the French Government. 

I quite like the idea that this book and its themes extend far beyond those obviously linked movements of climate and war which the book details in some considerable amount – it also speaks to our ability individually to create a meaningful difference, moving beyond motions and ideas but into practical activities that can have a material impact on the world around us. Is that not the lesson we all need to hear? 

‘There are also times in life when a person has to rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.’

It’s a short read – you won’t need to dedicate a lump of time to move through its beauty, or even days to understand the world it’s set in. It calls on a world we know, on challenges we see in our days now – it speaks to our condition as people wanting to do better, it speaks to those of us who want to make a difference.

The 46-page book is well worth your time, and it will inspire you to pick up where the author stops.

5 stars.

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