Friday, September 30, 2016

Germinal by Émile Zola


This book!  Where do I even start??

With a label... Émile Zola's style is classified as naturalism, a form of literary realism. And let me tell you, Germinal is nothing if not realistic! Brutal, in-your-face realism. There is dire poverty and suffering juxtaposed with the bourgeois life of ease and plenty, but Zola portrays the characters with such respect and humanity, the reader somehow sympathizes with everyone.

Germinal is about mining, politics, and labor relations. Sounds incredibly boring, right?  Yet boring is the last word I would use to describe this book. The women (and animals) especially broke my heart... such horrible lives. And the incident - OMG!! Can there be anything else in all of literature like that riot scene?

Zola's descriptions of physical surroundings are incredibly vivid. I could practically feel the moisture from the dripping water and melting snow. My feet seemed mired in the thick mud. The scenes in the mines made me nervous and anxious... my heart was pounding. Germinal is the most realistic piece of literature I've ever read. No wonder it is considered Zola's masterpiece!

This is not my first experience with Zola. I read Therese Raquin several years ago and thought it was excellent. [It's a perfect starting point if you're inclined to give Zola a try.] Not long after, and before the television series, I enjoyed The Ladies' Paradise. I've also read several of his short stories.

Germinal is the thirteenth novel is Zola's famous Rougon-Macquart series. I have considered reading them all, but can the others be this good? I've added the first book, The Fortune of the Rougons, to my current Classics Club Spin list. We'll see what happens on Monday...

A few more details...

As usual, I approached this classic as a read/listen combination. I purchased the Penguin Classics edition (pictured above) translated by Roger Pearson. Initially, I downloaded the audio version narrated by Frederick Davidson, but didn't like the translation. Audible has the best customer service and let me exchange it for the Leighton Pugh narration (pictured below)... much better, although the translation was still differed slightly from the print. I wish they would include translation information on their website.


Finally, a big thank you to Melissa and Care for organizing and hosting #GerminalAlong. Classics are always better with friends - great conversation and photos (!) on twitter, Litsy, and instagram. And, of course, the postcards :)

Overall, a grueling, but truly memorable reading experience.

My rating:



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36 comments:

  1. Wow, after a review like that how can you not want to read this? It seems the books in the series can be read out of order/as standalones, it that correct?

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    1. Vicki - Germinal is an exhausting book, but so worth it!

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  2. What a glowing review, I fear there will be parts about animals having a dire life that will make me weep. Maybe there is something wrong with me but if an animal gets hurt, I take that way harder than if a person has bad times. The innocence of an animal or small child, I suppose that's what does me in.

    But you have me intrigued so it goes on The List!

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    1. Tina - There was one animal scene in particular, involving a horse, that was so sad... tears in my eyes at that point. This is a brutal book, but amazingly good.

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  3. I've never even heard of this book before everyone started talking about the read along. I must admit, I'm curious. Riot scene?? Sounds horrible.

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    1. Ti - I've never read anything like that riot scene... one act in particular made my jaw drop!

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  4. Like Ti, I'd never heard of this book before the read-along but, I swear, everyone seems to have loved it.

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    1. Kathy - This was such a great book... grueling in many ways and emotionally exhausting, but so memorable!

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  5. I can't imagine listening to an audio of Zola, his books are pretty intense. I've read about half of the Rougon-Macquarts so far and Germinal is one of the best. I also loved La Bete Humaine, which is almost as intense; The Belly of Paris, which has amazing food descriptions; and Pot-Bouille, which has some of the same characters as the Ladies' Paradise. It's more of a bedroom farce, but I really enjoyed it. The Drinking Den and The Earth were also really good, but dark and intense like Germinal. I'm so glad people are reading Zola again, he's just so good.

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    1. Karen K. - Zola really is wonderful. I think listening to parts of Germinal did magnify its intensity... parts of it were truly harrowing! I'm looking forward to more.

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  6. I'd like to me to read these books in order one day, but for now will have to satisfied Ruth my sporadic out of order progress. Germinal is certainly the stand out do far.

    But the dilemma will be which order - chronological or Zola's preferred order?

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    1. Brona - Oh dear, you have presented me with a dilemma. I didn't know Zola's preferred order differed from their chronological order. Need to investigate...

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  7. I'd never heard of this before, but it TOTALLY sounds like my type of thing and I definitely need to get to it at some point. Thanks for the great review!

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    1. Shannon - This is long (just under 600 pages), but totally worth it. I do think you would appreciate Germinal.

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  8. What a fabulous review! And yes, that riot scene - the whole riot development description, etc. Amazing.

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    1. Care - That riot scene? I've never been so shocked by a book in my life! LOL! Thanks for reading with me and for all the postcards :)

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  9. Another author I haven't read (tho I enjoyed the TV series). I'm very intrigued by your descriptions of experiencing the realism...

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    1. Audrey - If you're intrigued with Zola, I think Therese Raquin is the perfect place to start. It's short (~250 pages) and incredibly powerful. Hope all is well. Thinking of you this weekend.

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  10. I enjoyed it a lot when I had to read it in my teens, as every French kid. one year, I want to reread all of Zola

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    1. Emma - Zola is such a prolific author. Rereading all his work would take a long, long time... but I can understand wanting to do it!

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  11. I confess: I have never read Zola. And I thought I never would. But this review has convinced that I have to give Germinal a try.

    Congratulations: you've succeeded where dozens have failed. :-)

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    1. Debbie - Thank you! Zola really is worth reading, but if you'd rather not take on a work of this length (almost 600 pages), Therese Raquin is every as good and less than half as long. That was my introduction to Zola and I was back for more within a year or two.

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  12. This sounds epic. Thanks for such a heartfelt review, JoAnn. I'm really curious now why there hasn't been a Zola movie adaptation while we have quite a few of other great writers of epic scale like Hugo or Tolstoy.

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    1. Arti - I was hoping you could answer that question for me!;-)

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  13. A rave review like this always sends me to the Amazon buy page. Thank you!

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    1. Deb Nance - Hope you get a chance to enjoy Zola!

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  14. Thank you for such a detailed and enthusiastic review. I must read it. I've ignored Zola up till now and I repent of my ways.

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    1. sunt_lacrimae_rerum - Reading Zola is quite an experience. I highly recommend starting with Therese Raquin!

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  15. I must say you totally sold me on Germinal. I read Zola in college and liked The Masterpiece. He has an earthy-ness for sure. So glad you had such a major experience with it. Nice going!

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    1. Susan - Earthy-ness is a good way to describe it! This certainly was a major reading experience... one that will not soon be repeated.

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  16. It is a masterpiece--absolutely enthralling. I found the final third of the book impossible to put down. Interesting how the audio translation didn't work for you. I have The Paradise on my TBR shelf, and I'm looking forward to it, but I know it will be very, very different from Germinal.

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    1. JaneGS - I flew through the final third of this book, too... absolutely unputdownable. It's strange that audible doesn't list the translator in the description, but I did have trouble with the first one I tried. That could have been a combination of translation and narrator. The Pugh narration didn't match the text I was reading, yet was still easy to find my place when I switched between the two.

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  17. Thank you for your amazing review. I am going to add it to my list! Have a great week!

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    1. Bonnie - Better brace yourself for this one! ;-)

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  18. I'm so bummed that I had too much I "had" to read to join you guys. This sound fantastic!

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    1. Lisa - This was one intense read, and so much more fun with friends. We'll catch you on the next readalong :)

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