Germinal, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Zola's masterpiece of working life, Germinal (1885), exposes the inhuman conditions of miners in northern France in the 1860s. By Zola's death in 1902 it had come to symbolise the call for freedom from oppression so forcefully that the crowd which gathered at his State funeral chanted 'Germinal!

Germinal!'. The central figure, Etienne Lantier, is an outsider who enters the community and eventually leads his fellow-miners in a strike protesting against pay-cuts - a strike which becomes a losing battle against starvation, repression, and sabotage. Yet despite all the violence and disillusion which rock the mining community to its foundations, Lantier retains his belief in the ultimate germination of a new society, leading to a better world.

Germinal is a dramatic novel of working life and everyday relationships, but it is also a complex novel of ideas, given fresh vigour and power in this new translation.

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

This book is amazing. I am however emotionally exhausted after reading it. The complex circumstances of all of the characters was at times overwhelming. The book is painfully raw and brutal and I feel grateful that authors like Zola and Dickens existed in history shining lights on the horrible conditions that people lived in.

Review by

Germinal by Emile Zola takes place in a northern France mining village in the 1860s. It depicts in detail the strained circumstances of woefully underpaid miners that eventually will lead to a divisive strike against the well-heeled mine owners."All the way from the silent village to the roaring pit of Le Voreux, a slow procession of shadows wended its way through the gusts of wind, as the colliers {coal miners} set off for work, shoulders swaying and arms crossed on their chests to keep them out of the way, with their lunchtime slab giving them a hump in the small of the back. In their thin cotton clothes they shivered with cold, but never quickened their pace, as they tramped along the road like a wandering herd of animals."This is the 13th novel in his 20 novel "Rougon-Macquart"series, "a natural and social history of the family" in France from 1852-1870. I believe it's the most famous one in the series, with the title coming from a Spring month in the French calendar associated with germination and revolution. The miners are paid by the tub of clean coal. "Stretched on their sides, they hacked away harder than ever, obsessed with the idea of filling as many tubs as possible." Children, girls, women, men, all labored in the mines to make enough to keep the household going, and a young man or woman marrying and setting up a new household would often put additional strain on the old household by depriving it of revenue, while posing a challenge to the newly-weds to establish and maintain their new one.Into this world wanders protagonist Etienne Lantier, an out-of-work, somewhat educated mechanic who's starving and thwarted by the countryside's lack of employment. His timing causes him to fortuitously join the Maheu family's mining crew and become enmeshed in the Monsou mine community. He has an immense attraction to the Maheu's daughter Catherine which seems reciprocated, but circumstances frustrate their alignment. He self-educates himself in political and social theory by reading, and eventually becomes a leader in the community's evolving dissatisfaction with its circumstances, as the mine owners increase the deprivation to protect profits."So the rich who ran the country found it easy enough to get together and buy and sell the workers and live off their very flesh; while the workers didn't even realize what was happening. But now the miners were waking from their slumbers in the depths of the earth and starting to germinate like seeds sown in the soil; and one morning you would see how they would spring up from the earth in the middle of the fields in broad daylight; yes, they would grow up to be real men, an army of men fighting to restore justice."The book is beautifully written and I enjoyed the clear and engaging 1993 translation by Peter Collier. In addition to the complex Etienne, there are memorable characters like the put-upon but determined waif Catherine, the brutish Chaval who is Etienne's romantic and work rival, his political rival Rasseneur, the stoic Bonnemort, the understandably bitter and ultimately vicious La Maheude, the radical Souvarine, and many more.The problem for me with this one: when you hear a book is "monumental", that likely means it's going to be long in addition to its positive qualities. My edition had 524 pages of smallish print, and it was wearing me out by the end. I could hear the voices of the book's many fans telling me to buck up for gods' sake, and it truly was a great piece of work from beginning to end. But it's one of those I was happy to finish, rather than wishing it would go on forever.

Review by

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.

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