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Germinal by Emile Zola
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Germinal (original 1885; edition 2008)

by Emile Zola

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3,501541,516 (4.14)1 / 386
Member:evilmoose
Title:Germinal
Authors:Emile Zola
Info:LeClue (2008), Kindle Edition, 510 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:read in 2012, 1001 books

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Germinal by Émile Zola (1885)

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English (43)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All (54)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Whoa. What a ride! This story of French coal miners going on strike in the 1860s sounded so dull to me when someone first recommended it. Then someone else mentioned it, then another person, and I began to think I needed to check it out. Before I dive into the details I will say that I ended up loving it. It's a powerful book and a few of the scenes are seared into my memory forever.

From here on out there are spoilers. I'd recommend skipping the review if you haven't read it.

Étienne Lantier arrives in a French town looking for work. Soon he's down in the depths of the earth mining for coal. He becomes friends with a man named Maheu who is a hard worker and well-respected in the mine. The working conditions are atrocious and there's barely enough pay for workers to scrap by. Grumblings start to increase among the workers and eventually they decide to go to their boss to ask for higher compensation and a few small things.

Maheu is chosen to speak for everyone and he does so in a calm and dignified way. When their request is casually rejected the situation inevitably escalates. The decide to strike and a mob forms and they travel through the countryside in a whirlwind of destruction. The mob mentality makes the workers willing to do things they would never normally do, Things spiral out of control as the mob continues to progress. Even Étienne who wants to protect the pump at the beginning, later wants to destroy it in his frustration. It culminates in the death of a man named Negrel when he falls from a roof while trying to escape the mob. The women gruesomely mutilate his corpse as the police arrive.

"It was the red vision of the revolution, which would one day inevitably carry them all away, on some bloody evening at the end of the century."

Maheu's daughter Catherine's story really struck a chord with me. She is raped by a man named Chaval, but because of the way their culture views women, she basically just becomes his property. He's brutal and jealous and she believes she has no other choice, even though Étienne loves her.

In the final third of the novel there is a collapse at the mine and workers, including Étienne, Catherine, and Chaval, are trapped underground. The scenes are harrowing as we read about their loved ones reactions above ground, but once we descend into the pits it's so much worse. I loved that after all the turmoil the workers still wanted to rescue their fellow miners.

"All the colliers rushed to offer themselves in an upsurge of brotherhood and solidarity. They forgot the strike, they did not trouble themselves at all about payment; they might get nothing, they only asked to risk their lives as soon as comrades lives were in danger."

There was one scene that chronicles the mad dash of a work horse that still haunts me. The animal, Bataille, is desperately trying to find his way out, but in his fearful galloping he becomes trapped as water rises. It was awful to read.

"It was a sight of fearful agony, this old beast shattered and motionless, struggling at this depth, far from the daylight. The flood was drowning his mane, and his cry of distress never ceased; he uttered it more hoarsely, with his large open mouth stretched out."

Another memorable scene took place above ground. The Gregorie family owns the mine. Circumstances lead them to visit one of the miner's homes with a few gifts and during the visit Cécile, the adult daughter, is strangled to death by one of the old workers, Bonnemort. That summery doesn't do the scene justice. The eerie calm as the two people looked at each other before the violence begins, the screams of her mother when she realizes what happened; it's heartbreaking. No one seems to leave this novel completely unscathed.

BOTTOM LINE: I was expecting a boring book with political rants about social injustice. Instead I found the gripping story of a group of people mired in an impossible situation. They are desperate and in those dire moments they are capable of the unthinkable. Just a fantastic read.

"He simply wanted to go down the mine again, to suffer and to struggle; and he thought angrily of those 'people' Bonnemort had told him about, and of the squat and sated deity to whom ten thousand starving men and women daily offered up their flesh without ever knowing who or what this god might be." ( )
  bookworm12 | Sep 27, 2016 |
COAL MINES OF BELGIUM
  dlsheaffer | Feb 8, 2015 |
Forget Stephen King, I think it's safe to say this was the most brutal, horrifying book I've ever read. Zola doesn't shirk from describing the bleak lives and dangerous work of coal miners in mid-19th century France. Unlike other books I've read about the lower economic classes in this era, there are no sweet love stories, moves to a higher economic class, or even the relief of exploring some good in the upper classes (there's honestly not even much good in the miners he describes) to lighten the mood here. Normally, I would detest a book like this, but I was absolutely fascinated by this book. There are scenes that I will NEVER forget. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 15, 2014 |
"This is Zola's true skill-he crafted a novel in which everyone seemed human, everything was tragic, and seemed to pass little judgement on all of the above. I completely see why this is considered one of the best novels of all time."
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.gr/2014/02/germinal-emile-zola.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | Feb 23, 2014 |
If there was ever a book that demonstrates the need for unions to prevent companies from oppressing the masses, then this is it. This book describes in dark, gruesome detail the lives of coalminers in Northern France during the 1860s. When finally pushed to brink with abysmal working conditions and pitiful wages, the coalminers strike. The military and police are brought in with disastrous results and eventually, the miners return to work, winning none of the concessions they demanded. The scenes especially at the end of the book are brilliant and moving. This book would be 5 stars for me except for one little complaint. There were times when the idealist Etienne is preaching about the masses and it became clear that there was an agenda behind the story. The story on its own was compelling enough that the preaching was unnecessary. ( )
  jmoncton | Nov 4, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (77 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zola, Émileprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armiño, MauroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balzer, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bannister, PhilipIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bartócz, IlonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Becker, ColetteEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bittencourt, FranciscoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buuren, Maarten vanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buvik, PerAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellis, HavelockTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Elliott M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jong, A.M. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mahn, BertholdIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minervini, ElisabettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montherlant, Henry deIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roldanus, W.J.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sbarbaro, CamilloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tancock, Leonard W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valenti, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
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First words
Dans la plaine rase, sous la nuit sans étoiles, d’une obscurité et d’une épaisseur d’encre, un homme suivait seul la grande route de Marchiennes à Montsou, dix kilomètres de pavé coupant tout droit, à travers les champs de betteraves.
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] Over the open plain, beneath a starless sky as dark and thick as ink, a man walked alone along the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou, a straight paved road ten kilometers in length, intersecting the beetroot-fields.
Quotations
— Longtemps, ah ! oui !… Je n'avais pas huit ans, lorsque je suis descendu, tenez ! juste dans le Voreux, et j'en ai cinquante-huit, à cette heure. Calculez un peu… J'ai tout fait là-dedans, galibot d'abord, puis herscheur, quand j'ai eu la force de rouler, puis haveur pendant dix-huit ans. Ensuite, à cause de mes sacrées jambes, ils m'ont mis de la coupe à terre, remblayeur, raccommodeur, jusqu'au moment où il leur a fallu me sortir du fond, parce que le médecin disait que j'allais y rester. Alors, il y a cinq années de cela, ils m'ont fait charretier… Hein ? c'est joli, cinquante ans de mine, dont quarante-cinq au fond ! (I, i)
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] "Long? I should think so. I was not eight when I went down into the Voreux and I am now fifty-eight. Reckon that up! I have been everything down there; at first trammer, then putter, when I had the strength to wheel, then pikeman for eighteen years. Then, because of my cursed legs, they put me into the earth cutting, to bank up and patch, until they had to bring me up, because the doctor said I should stay there for good. Then, after five years of that, they made me carman. Eh? that's fine--fifty years at the mine, forty-five down below."
D’une voix ardente, il parlait sans fin. C’était, brusquement, l’horizon fermé qui éclatait, une trouée de lumière s’ouvrait dans la vie sombre de ces pauvres gens. L’éternel recommencement de la misère, le travail de brute, ce destin de bétail qui donne sa laine et qu’on égorge, tout le malheur disparaissait, comme balayé par un grand coup de soleil ; et, sous un éblouissement de féerie, la justice descendait du ciel. Puisque le bon Dieu était mort, la justice allait assurer le bonheur des hommes, en faisant régner l’égalité et la fraternité. Une société nouvelle poussait en un jour, ainsi que dans les songes, une ville immense, d’une splendeur de mirage, où chaque citoyen vivait de sa tâche et prenait sa part des joies communes. Le vieux monde pourri était tombé en poudre, une humanité jeune, purgée de ses crimes, ne formait plus qu’un seul peuple de travailleurs, qui avait pour devise: à chacun suivant son mérite, et à chaque mérite suivant ses œuvres. Et, continuellement, ce rêve s’élargissait, s’embellissait, d’autant plus séducteur, qu’il montait plus haut dans l’impossible.
D’abord, la Maheude refusait d’entendre, prise d’une sourde épouvante. Non, non, c’était trop beau, on ne devait pas s’embarquer dans ces idées, car elles rendaient la vie abominable ensuite, et l’on aurait tout massacré alors, pour être heureux. Quand elle voyait luire les yeux de Maheu, troublé, conquis, elle s’inquiétait, elle criait, en interrompant Étienne : — N’écoute pas, mon homme ! Tu vois bien qu’il nous fait des contes… Est-ce que les bourgeois consentiront jamais à travailler comme nous ? (III, iii)
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] With his enthusiastic voice he spoke on and on. The closed horizon was bursting out; a gap of light was opening in the sombre lives of these poor people. The eternal wretchedness, beginning over and over again, the brutalizing labour, the fate of a beast who gives his wool and has his throat cut, all the misfortune disappeared, as though swept away by a great flood of sunlight; and beneath the dazzling gleam of fairyland justice descended from heaven. Since the good God was dead, justice would assure the happiness of men, and equality and brotherhood would reign. A new society would spring up in a day just as in dreams, an immense town with the splendour of a mirage, in which each citizen lived by his work, and took his share in the common joys. The old rotten world had fallen to dust; a young humanity purged from its crimes formed but a single nation of workers, having for their motto: "To each according to his deserts, and to each desert according to its performance." And this dream grew continually larger and more beautiful and more seductive as it mounted higher in the impossible.
At first Maheude refused to listen, possessed by a deep dread. No, no, it was too beautiful; it would not do to embark upon these ideas, for they made life seem abominable afterwards, and one would have destroyed everything in the effort to be happy. When she saw Maheu's eyes shine, and that he was troubled and won over, she became restless, and exclaimed, interrupting Étienne:
"Don't listen, my man! You can see he's only telling us fairy-tales. Do you think the bourgeois would ever consent to work as we do?"
D'un élan, elle s'était pendue à lui, elle chercha sa bouche et y colla passionnément la sienne. Les ténèbres s'éclairèrent, elle revit le soleil, elle retrouva un rire calmé d'amoureuse. Lui, frémissant de la sentir ainsi contre sa chair, demie-nue sous la veste et la culotte en lambeaux, l'empoigna, dans un réveil de sa virilité. Et ce fut enfin leur nuit de noces, au fond de cette tombe, sur ce lit de boue, le besoin de ne pas mourir avant d'avoir eu leur bonheur, l'obstiné besoin de vivre, de faire de la vie une dernière fois. Ils s'aimèrent dans le désespoir de tout, dans la mort.
Ensuite, il n'y eut plus rien. Étienne était assis par terre, toujours dans le même coin, et il avait Catherine sur les genoux, couchée, immobile. Des heures, des heures s'écoulèrent. Il crut longtemps qu'elle dormait ; puis, il la toucha, elle était très froide, elle était morte. Pourtant, il ne remuait pas, de peur de la réveiller. L'idée qu'il l'avait eue femme le premier, et qu'elle pouvait être grosse, l'attendrissait. D'autres idées, l'envie de partir avec elle, la joie de ce qu'ils feraient tous les deux plus tard, revenaient par moments, mais si vagues, qu'elles semblaient effleurer à peine son front, comme le souffle même du sommeil. Il s'affaiblissait, il ne lui restait que la force d'un petit geste, un lent mouvement de la main, pour s'assurer qu'elle était bien là, ainsi qu'une enfant endormie, dans sa raideur glacée. Tout s'anéantissait, la nuit elle-même avait sombré, il n'était nulle part, hors de l'espace, hors du temps. Quelque chose tapait bien à côté de sa tête, des coups dont la violence se rapprochait ; mais il avait eu d'abord la paresse d'aller répondre, engourdi d'une fatigue immense ; et, à présent, il ne savait plus, il rêvait seulement qu'elle marchait devant lui et qu'il entendait le léger claquement de ses sabots. Deux jours se passèrent, elle n'avait pas remué, il la touchait de son geste machinal, rassuré de la sentir si tranquille.
Étienne ressentit une secousse. Des voix grondaient, des roches roulaient jusqu'à ses pieds. Quand il aperçut une lampe, il pleura. Ses yeux clignotants suivaient la lumière, il ne se lassait pas de la voir, en extase devant ce point rougeâtre qui tachait à peine les ténèbres. Mais des camarades l'emportaient, il les laissa introduire, entre ses dents serrés, des cuillerées de bouillon. Ce fut seulement dans la galerie de Réquillart qu'il reconnut quelqu'un, l'ingénieur Négrel, debout devant lui ; et ces deux hommes qui se méprisaient, l'ouvrier révolté, le chef sceptique, se jetèrent au cou l'un de l'autre, sanglotèrent à grands sanglots, dans le bouleversement profond de toute l'humanité qui était en eux. C'était une tristesse immense, la misère des générations, l'excès de douleur où peut tomber la vie.
Au jour, la Maheude, abattue près de Catherine morte, jeta un cri, puis un autre, puis un autre, de grandes plaintes très longues, incessantes. Plusieurs cadavres étaient déjà remontés et alignés par terre : Chaval que l'on crut assommé sous un éboulement, un galibot et deux haveurs également fracassés, le crâne vide de cervelle, le ventre gonflé d'eau. Des femmes, dans la foule, perdaient la raison, déchiraient leurs jupes, s'égratignaient la face. Lorsqu'on le sortit enfin, après l'avoir habitué aux lampes et nourri un peu, Étienne apparut décharné, les cheveux tout blancs ; et on s'écartait, on frémissait devant ce vieillard. La Maheude s'arrêta de crier, pour le regarder stupidement, de ses grands yeux fixes. (VII, v)
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Serialized 1884-1885, first published as a book 1885
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

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Ger-mi-nal, Ger-mi-nal, Ger-mi-nal..., este era el grito que el 5 de octubre de 1902 una delegación de mineros franceses coreaba al arrojar sus ramos de rosas rojas sobre la tumba de Zola: cinco mil parisienses habían recorrido las calles de París con el féretro del escritor que había abanderado el enfrentamiento con el sector más conservador de la sociedad francesa a raíz del conocido como «affaire Dreyfus». Émile Zola , el padre del naturalismo, describe en Germinal , de una forma descarnada, el mundo sombrío y mísero de la mina, retratando a un grupo de personas que vive ahogado en condiciones infrahumanas y por cuyas venas Zola hace correr el odio y el rencor, seres humanos que se extenúan trabajando en medio de una terrible frustración. Los sueños de juventud, la búsqueda del amor, todo choca contra la realidad siniestra de la mina, que se cobra vidas y apenas permite vivir a los que logran salir de su oscuro pozo. Pero cuando falta el pan, cuando el sueño se convierte en pesadilla, los mineros se alzan contra las fuerzas de la destrucción: la huelga hace brotar de todos y cada uno lo mejor y lo peor del ser humano. Con Germinal, Zola escribe una epopeya radicalmente moderna: la denuncia de una realidad se convierte en mito.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140447423, Paperback)

The thirteenth novel in Émile Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart sequence, Germinal expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope.

Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all.

New translation
Includes introduction, suggestions for further reading, filmography, chronology, explanatory notes, and glossary

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:58 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

During the Second Empire, Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, experiences the miserable life of the coal miners in northern France and enters the struggle between capital and labor.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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