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Germinal Paperback – Aug 10 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; Reissue edition (Aug. 10 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199536899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199536894
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 2.5 x 12.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #150,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'masterpiece' Oxford Times

'A good translator uses the language of his day; the original text remains fixed, but translations must move with the times. Collier's, though differing from, and not always improving on, Tancock's, is likely to have the same startling effect on the reader coming fresh to it today as his prdecessor's had forty years ago.' F.W.J. Hemmings, French Studies, Vol. 48, Part 4

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1 map --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Format: Paperback
Reading Germinal is like receiving a hefty punch in the face, albeit in a good sense. I can only imagine what Zola's contemporaries must have thought as they finished it. It's a very brutal book in numerous ways - I was expecting the sentiments of Hugo, and man oh man, was I surprised. Germinal is a prime example of the burgeoning "naturalism" movement. And yet, it's hard to believe that Zola approached it scientifically, as he claimed to, since it's so utterly jam-packed with passion. In many places, the book is mind-numbingly brutal, shocking even today. Indeed, while many of Zola's contemporaries poetized the working class, Zola was careful to tell the truth about them - they are illiterate, brutal savages. Now, that fact is not their fault, as they have been raped by the system since birth, but it is nonetheless a fact that the author makes no effort to hide. Numerous scenes will leave the reader amazed at the senseless cruelty - the sorry end of the shopkeeper Maigrat, for instance - but this cruelty is not limited to any one side, giving the (correct) impression that it's inherent to the _system_, not any of the people.
But all of the politics would seem hollow if the book wasn't filled with unforgettable people. Monsieur Hennebeau's life of luxury is sharply contrasted with the lives of the starving workers - and yet one simply _cannot_ dismiss the aching, naked loneliness he feels every second as the pettiness of a rich man. It's real and it's terribly sad. Likewise, the repressed love that Etienne and Catherine (as well as Bebert and Lydie - now that was one of the most touching scenes I've ever read...) feel for each other is poignant beyond words.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Zola's Masterpiece Jan. 23 2003
By Dana Keish - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Germinal is generally considered the greatest of Emile Zola's twenty novel Rougon-Macquart cycle. Of these, Germinal is the most concerned with the daily life of the working poor. Set in the mid 1860's, the novel's protaganist Etienne Lantier is hungry and homeless, wandering the French countryside, looking for work. He stumbles upon village 240, the home of a coal mine, La Voreteux. He quickly gets a job in the depths of the mine, experiencing the backbreaking work of toiling hundreds of feet below the earth. He is befriended by a local family and they all lament the constant work required to earn just enough to slowly starve. Fired up by Marxist ideology, he convinces the miners to strike for a pay raise. The remainder of the novel tells the story of the strike and its effect on the workers, managers, owners and shareholders.
Zola weaves a strong plot line along with a multitude of characters. The hallmark of this novel is the wealth of people who populate the pages. The miners are not the noble poor but men and women who live day to day, cruel in some ways, generous in others. The managers are owners are not evil, greedy men but complex characters who in some ways envy the freedom of the miners from conventional morality.
As with most Zola novels, don't expect a happy ending. But the reader can expect to be transported to a world and a way of life almost unimaginable for its brutality and bleakness. Like other great works of literature, the novel explores the thoughts and actions of people who suffer the daily indignities of poverty and injustice. Germinal is different however because the thoughts and actions are not noble and the consequences of their actions are felt by all. I would strongly recommend Germinal as one of the major novels of the 19th century but one that transcends time and place. The issues evoked in the novel regarding labor versus capital are just as relevant to today's world.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding! Dec 27 2008
By Red Pineapple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For those who don't know, Germinal is the month of April on the Revolutionary calendar, instituted in France in the late eighteenth century. The idea of germination, the springing forth of new life, pervades the entire story, and it is rich with symbolism throughout. Étienne, a newcomer who quickly becomes the leader of the workers' rebellion, literally plants the seeds of socialism and the promise of a new world order in the minds of these otherwise simple miners. But throughout the book, the lives of the miners remain bleak, going from simply struggling to make each day's soup and constantly running out of coffee, to simply dying from starvation during the strike, which lasts for more than two months.

But in spite of their poverty and general misery, the miners still enjoy a level of freedom that the bourgeoisie, whole live a life of idleness and ignorance among their workers, do not. They are free to openly engage in sexual activities, which is something that is absolutely forbidden to the upper classes. Even the manager of the mine, M. Hennebeau, as he looks out his window at the swarm of strikers, envies them for their emotional freedom, his own marriage being nothing more than a loveless sham.

There are events in the book that will shock the uninformed reader. The miners regularly beat their wives and children, and the mothers look on their children as little more than wage-earners in some respects. A reader must place himself in the period and environment in which this story takes place. These mining families are holding on with both hands, and struggle everyday just to simply survive. So it's no wonder that when a child's legs are crushed in a tragic mining accident, his mother laments the loss of his income more than his injuries and pain. In the end, this book simply shows that the will to survive, and to achieve a just world, can conquer anything.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Daunting! Feb. 2 2011
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Aw, do I really have to write a book report, Mr Taylor? Why can't I just lie here on the sofa and reverberate with the beauty of the language and the ferocity of the story? Will you give me a decent grade if I go and sabotage a coal mine, or at least honor the picket line around our local Walmart, since that's what Zola's passion for social justice inspires me to do? This novel is too grand and powerful to demean with a paltry book report. I'm sure that's why there are only two reviews posted here; everyone is intimidated by greatness.

"Germinal" is widely regarded as Zola's masterpiece. I'm inclined to agree. It's surely his most passionate, suspenseful, kinesthetic novel, with a cast of characters so vividly depicted that you'd recognize them on a crowded street. The focal character is the young laborer Etienne Lantier -- the family link to the other novels of Zola's Rougon-Macquart epic -- who takes a job, out of desperation, in a coal mine. Zola did his homework on mining technology and working conditions in the mines of mid-19th C France. His word-paintings of the mines are worth a thousand pictures, and the conditions of work are beyond hellish. Life for the miners and their families in the company-owned villages is squalid and brutish, while the luxury enjoyed by the bourgeois managers and stockholders is hatefully excessive. Exploiters and exploited are both trapped in an orgy of moral and psychological corruption. Young Etienne, a self-educated idealist pushed and yanked every which way by his reading and his contact with utopian socialism, becomes the instigator of a massive strike that begins with orderly optimism but that devolves into misery and violence. Meanwhile the poor lad falls in love with a miner's daughter ...

"Germinal" IS a 19th C novel, and accordingly there's a lot of predictable melodrama and improbable coincidence in it, none of which detracts from its real dramatic potency. It's a "labor" novel, right? In fact, possibly the first muck-raking hard-hitting labor novel ever written, and still arguably the finest! But in a "labor" novel there has to be a strike, and the strike has to be crushed by the cynical might of avaricious capitalism. Likewise, it's a novel set in the dank dark fissures of a coal mine; what could a reader possibly expect but a cave-in followed by heroic efforts to rescue the trapped miners? Would Zola's first readers in the 1880s have had such obvious expectations? Perhaps not. One could credit Zola with inventing all the formulae of the modern novel and be at least half right. In any case, the descriptions of the catastrophic cave-in and the struggles of the trapped miners to survive will curl your hair and set your heart thumping. [Yes, teacher, this is an exciting novel that I could hardly put down even for dinner and that's why I couldn't study for my math test.]

Etienne's efforts to prepare himself as a charismatic 'leader' of the working class are stimulated by his friendship with Souvarine, an educated Russian exile employed as an engineer in the mines. Souvarine has books to lend and ideologies to impart, as well as a sinister arrogance that will strike fear in the heart of a post-20th C reader. He's an astoundingly prophetic figure, this Souvarine, a libertarian/anarchist fanatic as cold-blooded and self-righteous as Pinochet or Pol Pot. If only Zola had had his hands on the real man and could have expunged him from the future!

Naive awareness of Bakunin, Marx, and Darwin all add confusion to Etienne Lantier's worldview, as Zola portrays him becoming strangely aware of his own ambiguity. The more he learns and thinks about the injustice of capitalist society, the more he separates himself from the brutish and brutalized workers whom he aspires to organize and elevate. There's a good measure of profundity in Zola's portrayal of Etienne, whose mentality is uncomfortably familiar to readers a century later. He's the prototype of all ardent organizers and politicians whose "sympathy" for the downtrodden and degraded of society eventually clashes with their disapproval of the stubborn ignorance and viciousness of the 'masses.'

Conservative critics of Zola in his own era and in the earlier decades of the 20th C harped on his 'lascivious' amoral depiction of sexuality. Liberal critics berated him for his portrayal of lower-class vices - drunkenness, wife beating, child abuse, filthiness, shiftlessness. Yes, there's a "whole lotta shakin' goin' on" between the males and females in Germinal, the poor and the rich, in the moonlit fields, in the fetid galleries of the mines, and in the poshly wallpapered bedrooms of the bourgeois also, and very little of all this fornication is devoted to the protection of marriage. But Zola was actually a rather stiff-necked moralist and all the raw sexuality in his novels was anything but erotic. Despite the conventions of the 19th C melodramatic novel that Zola never defied, "Germinal" is fearlessly realistic in its exposure of human nature and social complexity. The Rougon-Macquart novels rank among the highest accomplishments of all literature.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Zola's Masterpiece March 12 2006
By Utah Blaine - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is Zola's masterpiece about a coal miner strike in northeast France in the second half of the nineteenth century before the Franco-Prussian war. The title of the book, `Germinal', is explained in the introduction and has a double meaning. On the one hand, it refers to the month during the French revolution when the Parisians rose up in bloody rebellion against the government. The title therefore implies violent, bloody revolution. On the other hand, it also signifies cleansing and rebirth. These are the main themes of this book, and the title is quite appropriate. This book paints a clear, uncompromising picture of abject squalor and misery in which the coal miners worked during this era, and probably describes the conditions of miners in every Western country at the time. The miners live their lives as little more than animals or beasts of burden. Like most of Zola's work, the story is dark, and the miners' lot in life only gets worse as the story progress. If you are looking for an uplifting, feel good story, this ain't it. Zola's writing style is brutally and graphically realistic, he pulls no punches. This is a book about hope and struggle, failure and perserverance.

For those unfamiliar with Zola, he is regarded as one of the two greats in French literature (Hugo being the other), standing well above all other authors. He is certainly one of the greatest novelists ever to put pen to paper in any language. He is perhaps best known, however, for a newspaper article that he wrote entitled `J'accuse' (I accuse) in which he called much of the political and military leadership of France in the 1890s liars for their role in covering up the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus. The novel `Germinal' is one in a series of twenty books that Zola wrote (the Rougon-Macquart series) to describe various aspects of life in France under the Empire before it was destroyed by the Prussians in 1870. All the books are linked (ala Balzac), with many characters recurring throughout the series. For example, the main character in `Germinal', Etienne Lantier, is the son of the washerwoman Gervaise from `L'Assomoir', an earlier book in the series.

I cannot write a review to do this outstanding novel justice. The characters are realistic, three dimensional, well developed, and believable. Zola's dialogue is outstanding. He writes as people actually talk, I have never read anyone who writes dialogue as well as Zola. He writes about the human condition and all that is good and evil in men. The story is complex and well developed, yet easy to read. This translation is highly readable, and contains detailed endnotes that give the reader information on people, places, and historical events that contemporaries of Zola would have understood, but that modern readers may not be familiar with. I would, in general, recommend Zola's work to others with caution, but I highly recommend this book to anyone who is perusing these reviews. This is a great novel by a great writer - you will not be disappointed.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Masterpiece Sept. 16 2010
By JAnna - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
What I think will hold back many currently fashionable writers from having their books survive as masterpieces is their smallness, their inability to honor the greatness of the human condition. You can't get there with contempt, disdain and loathing, no matter how entertaining and enthralling the smirking can be. Zola was the original "New Journalism," but he did it with sincere, heartfelt, compassion, and, in Germinal, he created an extraordinarily propulsive social work that also ushered in the modern disaster novel. That's it's also a page turner only makes it better. It's one of a handful of books I read and re-read. It's not just a classic, it's a Masterpiece.


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