Germinal: Penguin Classics Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Considered by André Gide to be one of the 10 greatest novels in the French language, Germinal is a brutal depiction of the poverty and wretchedness of a mining community in Northern France under the second empire.
At the centre of the novel is Etienne Lantier, a handsome 21-year-old mechanic, intelligent but with little education and a dangerous predisposition to murderous, alcoholic rage. Germinal tells the parallel story of Etienne's refusal to accept what he appears destined to become and of the miners' difficult decision to strike in order to fight for a better standard of life.
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|Listening Length||21 hours and 13 minutes|
|Author||Émile Zola, Roger Pearson - translator|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||April 23, 2020|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #100,956 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#3,005 in Classic Literature (Audible Books & Originals)
#13,231 in Classic Literature & Fiction
Top reviews from the United States
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It's not a quick and easy read, not a thriller, but neither is it difficult and it rewards the reader with startling depth. At no time did I feel the writing was dated, perhaps because it’s a modern translation. Zola is both a novelist with a powerful story and a political philosopher asking hard questions and refusing to either settle for pat answers or proselytize. It helps to know a little of the history but it’s not necessary. Zola tells you all you need to know as you read. Pearson clarifies obscure terminology with footnotes. In the Kindle edition, the footnotes work particularly well, popping up with the text instead of taking you away from it.
Important: read Pearson’s introduction after you’ve read the novel. It has spoilers. I hate spoilers. If you don’t mind them or if already you know how the book ends, then the introduction is valuable to understanding the historical context. If you don’t read it first, definitely read it afterwards. Germinal is fiction but there’s a genuine tragedy behind it and Pearson will show you the powerful metaphors and leit motifs you may have missed.
Here are a few samples of Zola’s vivid writing that make the book so worthwhile:
"such talk never made a man’s soup taste any better"
"And over these lifeless buildings, wrapped in their black shroud of coal-dust, hung the steam from the drainage-pump as it continued its slow, heavy panting, the last vestiges of life in a pit, which would be destroyed by flooding if this panting should ever stop."
"All over the region, along roads still plunged in darkness, the herd was tramping through the mists of dawn, long lines of men plodding along with their noses to the ground like cattle being led to the slaughterhouse. Shivering under their thin cotton clothes, they walked with their arms folded, rolling their hips and hunching their backs, to which their pieces, wedged between shirt and coat, added its hump."
So I began this 500-plus pager about a coal miners’ strike in 1860’s France with trepidation. Which just goes to show you. How does Zola get right what others get wrong? First he gathers facts, facts, facts. Analyzes, analyzes, analyzes. Plots, plots, plots. Then starts things off with a stranger in town, Etienne Lantier, who is clearly trouble from the get-go. Add the working class Maheu family; the bourgeoisie Gregoires family; the petty bourgeoisie Hennebeaus family. Mix up with Pluchart, a socialist; Souvarine, a Russian anarchist; and a dozen others all of whom, like characters in Dickens, reverberate with life. Zola not only shows Them against Us, but Us against Us and Them against Them. Being French he doesn’t neglect sex, making Thomas Hardy and even D. H. Lawrence seem prudishly uptight. Zola stirs the stew till it boils then boils over, and over, and over. In the end he earns the right to finish things off thusly: “Beneath the blazing rays of the sun, on this morning when the world seemed young, such was the stirring which the land carried in its womb. New men were starting into life, a black army of vengeance slowly germinating in the furrows, growing for the harvests of the century to come; and soon this germination would tear the earth apart.”
A great book? One doubts finicky Henry agreed but here’s William James in a 7/12/1889 letter to his wife: “Yesterday, Sunday, Harry went to the country after breakfast, whilst I wrote a lot of notes and read Zola's GERMINAL, a story of mines and miners, and a truly magnificent work, if successfully to reproduce the horror and pity of certain human facts and make you see them as if real can make a book magnificent.”
Top reviews from other countries
Apparently, Zola believed this was not a book about revolution but about 'compassion' ; a sort of warning to the bourgeosie of what can happen when one ceases to care. The point is certainly made that grinding poverty demeans and shames both the poor and the rich. Mind you, I can cope with shame far more easily with a big house and a full belly.
The first quarter of this book covers only one day; a tour de force or writing and research. It is a big read yet I only faltered when the characters voiced Proudhon, Marx and Bakhunin. Once we returned to the Maheu 'litter of puppies' and their transition from simple acquiescence to mute obstinacy, the reader's focus was reasserted.
This would have made for interesting reading during the 1984/5 Miner's Strike; what had really changed over the 140 years?