With out a doubt, Germinal is the best book I have read during this challenge. I’ll even go so far as to say that Germinal is one of the best books I have read this year. And I’ll go even further to say that Germinal is one of the best books I have ever read.
It wasn’t the story that made it great, or the writing, or the characters, or the time period, or the drama. It was a combination of all of those things in the right amount.
Germinal serves as a perfect time capsule of the time in which it was set. The characters are real, as is the situation. The plight of the miners is tangible to the reader and you feel as though you are right there with them.
When the story eventually turns to tragedy, you feel as though those people are your own, and that you have grown up with them in the mining village. You have suffered and starved with them and lost your own family members to the horror of the mines.
But even with all of its dark and depressing plotlines, the novel still leaves you with a bit of hope in its last words:
“Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.”
While it is a story of a group of miners striking because of low pay, lack of food, and horrid working conditions, it is also the tale of a time in everyone’s history where the working class had enough. The United States got that in their factories and shops. You might even know about the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where women were locked in a burning factory and jumped from windows to plummet to their own deaths.
Labor strikes are a part of almost every developed country’s history. People rising up against corruption and prejudice to fight for what they believe to be their own.
So…Germinal. Why do I keep singing its praises?
It is how Zola ties everything together. Rather than focus on one specific instant, or one specific character, Zola creates a world in the 7 parts to his novel. Each part is its own story, with the introduction of characters, a rising struggle, and the inevitable climax, which usually leads to tragedy. Each part grabs you until you finish it. Then you move on. It is almost as if Zola crafted 7 independent problems, but tied them together in the larger context of the novel.
It’s amazing. And breathtakingly beautifully written. I marked hundreds of passages for their beauty and it is too hard to pick my favorites. Perhaps my ultimate favorite is above., the last words from the novel that seem to sum up its message. That even through struggle, death, and tragedy, there is still hope. There is always hope.
Germinal is without a doubt a book I will be returning to again and again. I recommend it above anything else that I have read so far for this challenge. Just make sure that before you get to Part 7, you make sure you have enough time to read straight through it. Trust me.