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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review - EARTH by Emile Zola

I was browsing through the Paris in July challenge and idly reading the list of authors listed came across Emile Zola. I had got this book, never read it and then started reading it and the usual story of having to finish as quickly as possible.

The Earth is a perennial story of generations of people who have a love for the soil, their own soil as it were and which they would fight to the death to protect and save and with great reluctance hand over to the next generation. The characters of the book are so pronounced and earthy that although we may not see people like this anymore, you can recognize characteristics in each of them similar to those around you now.

The greed to acquire, the greed not to share, the envy of a neighbours prosperity and expansion, covetousness are all there in full measure even today - these characteristics are paramount in this book. It was sad to see the envy between siblings - not mere envy but cruelty at its peak to see to the end of one person so that the other person could rise.

I understand that the author's idea was to show the effect of division of estates in rural France in the 19th century to the detriment of agriculture. The influence of the Civil Code led to the lack of respect for elders as well as a constant attempt to limit the number of children in order that land would not be fragmented by division.

Another feature would be the problem of aging - physically as well as mentally - and the issue of how children cope with aging parents. In the story the manner in which the family treat their aging parents (once the property is handed over of course) is horrible. It leads to the murder of the father and in their greed to acquire more and more land, the murder of a sister as well.

The book was a cruel depiction of life and whether it was typical or not I couldn't say (for 19th century rural France). It was a difficult read because it hit very hard with no holds barred.
Though tough to assimilate, a very good book.

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