novel in translation
"Zola's masterpiece of working life, Germinal (1885), exposes the inhuman conditions of miners in northern France in the 1860s. By Zola's death in 1902 it had come to symbolize the call for freedom from oppression so forcefully that the crowd which gathered at his State funeral chanted "Germinal! Germinal!""
Are you looking for an uplifting short read? This is not it. Are you looking for an account of abject misery and poverty written in strong language? Look no further.
This is centred around a cast of characters who have such flaws that I'm not sure I really liked any of the characters. But then again, I actively disliked few of them too so really, that's just a sign that the characters are all too human. This is just such a bleak view of a coal mine village's chances to effect change among both the lower and middle classes. I mean, they're all helpless and while the middle classes aren't exactly passively stuck in a horrific cycle of misery (wife beatings, too many children, guarantee of sickness, awful working conditions), they're not exactly so well off. This is Zola's true skill-he crafted a novel in which everyone seemed human, everything was tragic, and seemed to pass little judgement on all of the above. I completely see why this is considered one of the best novels of all time.
The writing is lush, detailed without being overwhelming. It guides you from one scene to another without actively holding your hand. It is intense but also betrays a light hand. It is entirely suited to the story and elevates it.
And I loved the earth which was like its own character. It is present in every scene, these pervasive, claustrophobic mines with the weight of the earth and yet absolutely beautiful and precious. Even while the anger of the revolution took over the people, the earth remained constant-both a burden and a blessing.