Wow! I have seriously struggled with this review. I am supposed to describe my reaction to or my opinion of Émile Zola's Germinal. I finished it over two week's ago, and I am still speechless. I had this same reaction to Gone With the Wind, although I was able to write about it a day later, at least. With books like these, I am beginning to understand the reason for rereading them over and over again. It is one thing to want to know what the story is about, but it is another to get into the soul of the author and discover his world, to understand him, and to walk in his shoes. I will definitely have to reread Germinal if I expect to say something worthy about it. But for the sake of saying anything, please forgive me ahead of time for my inept response.
When I joined Fanda's Zoladdiction, I invited a friend of mine, who does not blog, to read along with me for the month of April. Neither one of us had ever heard of Zola until more recently. On the first day of reading, she texted me to say that she had finished part one already; she was enjoying it. We both got into Germinal immediately.
Germinal has all the qualities of a good book, to emotionally involve its reader: it is persuadable, sympathetic, raw, gruesome, realistic, solemn; it may even make you mad with contention, which is a good thing because it means the author is effective. The plot surrounds the lives and livelihood of poor miners and their families surviving in a French mining community during the 1860s.
I like the numerous ideas and conflicts warring against one another within the plot, such as: the basic desire for love and affection verses the want of food and sustenance; the different ways man thinks he can deal with injustice; and man's insatiable and impossible demand for utopia upon the earth, NOW!
|Gorgeous illustration for Germinal |
from illustrator Francesco Chiacchio
See more here!
Personally, one of my frustrations with the plot existed with the miners, who were beholden to the Company's management and ownership, who were completely removed from the reality of the workers:
But Mme Hennebeau was astonished to hear anyone talk about the miners of Montsou as being poor. Were they not perfectly fortunate? Men and women who were provided with housing, heating and medical care all at the Company's expense! Given her indifference to the common herd, all she knew about them was what she had been told to tell others, and this was the version she used to pass on to her Parisian visitors, who were duly impressed. In the end she had come to believe it herself and so felt indignant at the people's ingratitude.
This is pure welfare; and when the workers go on strike, naturally, all that they need for survival is cut off. It would have benefited the people to be self-sufficient all of the time - to grow food, raise meat, make their own supplies, and trade with each other, if necessary - instead of only relying on the Company for housing, fuel, and a livelihood. Even with such lousy wages, they still had to beg and borrow; so the problem was always present. Instead the workers looked to the Company to supply them completely and, ultimately, control them. It is obvious with the quote by Mme Hennebeau: the Company thinks they are doing them a favor. Meanwhile, when the miners were demanding bread from the very people whom they claimed oppressed them, it looked a lot like voluntary slavery.
In truth, these families were in a bad way, and it appeared rather impossible that they would ever be able to change their own circumstances. They could not move on and better their situations on their own. However, one thing they could have changed was the immoral behavior that was rampant within the culture and was rather complicating their situation.
But I digress. I am not here to fix the characters within the novel; it is not possible. However, I will end on this note: if you like a book in which the author reaches out and grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you forcefully, then Germinal is a book for you.