Germinal Book Review

Germinal_first_edition_coverGerminal, written by Emile Zola: For years it sat on my bookshelf looking handsome in its Everyman’s suit; calling out to me, heaping guilt on my head, and yet I heeded not. “Who wants to read a book about coal miners!” I replied, envisioning some muckraker style epistle. Everyone knows already what a horrible life is the life of a coal miner!” Came a day when I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read; desperation set in; I removed the book from its longtime home and started read. From the first page, I was hooked. Still hooked now, because the book changed the environment of my brain forever.

Some people would say of Zola: “Oh, he’s just one of those writers who writes about what is going on at a certain time in a certain place, a kind of fictionalized reportage.” How very wrong that person was, a French citizen who had never really read the entire book, just snippets. What arrogance I say because there’s nothing just about Germinal. There’s nothing just about the genius of Emile Zola.

Germinal, although written in 1885, is a timeless novel; yes, it is about coal miners, humans degraded by their circumstances to beasts who don’t have the luxury of contemplating the future: Their lives are day to day, minute to minute, second to second. It is a reality that has been repeated countless times in the history of humans, a reality of those who are willing to treat others of their species as mere beasts of burden, to look on while others starve so they can enjoy fine clothes, fine food, fine homes, fine educations. Germinal is at times surreal, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian, nightmarish in the extreme. No indeed, Germinal is not just the story of coal miners rebelling against their circumstances, it is a story of the germination of mere beasts into humans, for down there in those dark, dank underground caverns, a seed is sown for the becoming of humanity.  has very few peers possibly only Independent People. It is a 6 star masterpiece in a 5 star universe.

Marcia Letaw

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