Georges Hardcover – May 1 2007
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“Georges is an illuminating, instructive, and enduring blueprint of racial conflict and strife, as compelling and relevant today as it was back in the 1840s, when it was first published.”
–Adrienne Kennedy, author of Funnyhouse of a Negro
“I know this is a novel of great historical and cultural significance and that it explores complex issues of race and colonialism and all, but what matters to a guy like me is, it’s a hell of a read. Sea battles and land battles, a steamy setting and hot-blooded gallantries, ancient enmities and sweet revenge, forbidden love, insults and duels, bravado and bravery and redemption, hot pursuit and desperate flight and crushing captures and daring escapes. What a story! And Kover’s translation lets all the lushness and the romance and the passion come through with cinematic clarity.”
–David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident
“A remarkable discovery that expands the corpus of Alexandre Dumas. Rendered in beautiful language, this is a tale that transports us to a time and place that still speaks to us in our present circumstances. We are indebted to Werner Sollors and Jamaica Kincaid for their framing documents that provide us with a critical lens for the journey Dumas has created for us out of his own generous and expansive imagination.”
–Rudolph P. Byrd, Emory University
“A brilliant example of the French Romantic novel, far too infrequently read and . . . deserving of a broader audience.”
–Barbara T. Cooper, professor of French, University of New Hampshire
About the Author
Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), one of the most popular writers of all time, is the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and The Knight of Maison-Rouge (all available from the Modern Library), along with dozens of other works of every genre. His remains were recently removed to the Pantheon, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a French writer.
Tina A. Kover has worked as a translator in the United States and Europe for more than ten years. Her first literary translation, George Sand’s The Black City, was published in 2004.
Werner Sollors teaches African American studies, English, and comparative literature at Harvard University. He is the author of Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture and Neither Black Nor White Yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature and editor of Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader; The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves and An Anthology of Interracial Literature: Black-White Contacts in the Old World and the New.
Jamaica Kincaid is the acclaimed author of many books, including Annie John, A Small Place, and Lucy. She lives in Vermont.
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Georges follows the exploits of the young mulatto Georges Munier and is set on the Ile de France, a small French (and later English) colony located in the Indian Ocean. While the population of Ile de France is racially diverse, it is not exactly tolerant, as the economy is based upon slavery and the large mulatto (and other free non-white) population can never achieve the upper echelon of society (can't marry a white woman, can't attend certain social events, can't march with the white regiments into battle, etc.). Georges, after his father sends him to Europe as a young teenager in order to complete his education, returns to Ile de France as a young man in his twenties in order to undertake the Quixotic task of eradicating prejudice from the island - a task which he is determined to either accomplish or die trying.
I won't get into the plot in any more detail in order to avoid spoiling any of it, but the novel is very enjoyable, although it could have used a bit more swashbuckling action. The characters are well crafted, with the vindictive young Georges very much resembling the somewhat more developed Edmond Dantes (Georges was released one year before The Count, and from reading both I get the impression Dumas experimented with the character in Georges before perfecting and recasting it as Dantes, although for all I know the release dates may not coincide with the timing of when the bulk of each was written, so I could be completely wrong). Georges' character doesn't quite achieve the depth of the excellent Dantes or d'Artagnan, but that's a given due to the much shorter length of this novel. The real antagonist isn't a man but rather an idea (prejudice), and Dumas does a good, though not quite perfect, job of personifying this via the characters it embodies.
The translation, in my opinion, is pretty good. I don't speak French and haven't read any other translations of this work so I can't give a very good review of the translation, other than to say it is easy to read yet for the most part it doesn't lose too much of the "feel" of the 19th century French speaking civilization. The writing itself isn't quite as enthralling as some of the other Dumas works I've read, although I can't say whether this is due to the translation or the original work.
In short - if you haven't yet discovered Dumas, read The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers (in unabridged form!). If, on the other hand, you're already familiar with Dumas' writing and are merely wondering whether Georges lives up to the standards of his better known works, or if you don't have the guts to undertake a 1,000+ page tome, then I would whole heartedly recommend picking this up. For the latter group, reading Georges is by far a preferable option to reading an abridged (read: gutted) version of one of his longer works.
In my opinion, Georges isn't *quite* as good as the two works mentioned elsewhere in this review, but it's pretty damn good nonetheless. If half stars were allowed I'd give Georges 4.5 stars, as I consider it excellent though not quite perfect.
But as entertainment this reviewer found the book somewhat lacking. Perhaps too much is made of what an amazing young man Georges Munier is - it's hard to identify with someone who's so perfect in every way. And certainly the pace of this book is problematic; the first half of the book was painfully slow, then the second half almost seemed to move too quickly. Yes, there's no shortage of adventure: a horse race, a prison break, a native uprising, a wedding, a betrayal, an execution, a sea battle, surprisingly little man to man swordplay... but without the emotional engagement that should have made us really care about the characters, this reviewer felt the book fell a little flat. The easy-to-read prose of this translation makes it accessible enough for young people, but not all will find it much to their liking. Highly recommended for students of the history of race relations. For casual readers: 3.5 stars.
A note on the cover of the hardback edition: a very dark-faced Georges is shown holding hands with two white women, although Dumas makes it pretty clear that Georges is actually light-colored enough to "pass". One presumes this cover was designed to emphasize Georges' ancestry, and not just to generate controversy.
I heartily recommend Georges. I recommend reading the lengthy introduction discussing Dumas' background. All of this somewhat dry discussion here shouldn't scare you away from reading this action and adventure-filled tale that has enjoyment for readers at all levels.
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