by Emile Zola

Other authorsPeter Collier
Paper Book, 1998


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.



Call number



Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.


User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member reneeseinfeld
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
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conditions that people lived in.
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LibraryThing member frogball
I wouldn't perhaps recommend this to anyone who likes their reading to be a light gallop through events and characters. This is a heavy horse of a novel, powerfully carrying you to places deep in the earth and deep in the human soul. The descriptions of work in the coal mine are extraordinary. I
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read this on an e-reader, in the dark before sleeping, and the sense of claustrophobia in the sections down the pit was remarkable. No less vivid is the depiction of the miserable lives of the miners' families and the contrast with those of the comfortably-off bourgeois managers. This is a committed novel, but does not shirk from the dilemmas facing the workers in confronting the injustice of the system in which they had to scrape a living. Brutally honest, too, in its depiction of the kind of relationships that such a life forced people into.
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LibraryThing member seabear
This is a tale of an early coal miners' strike near the border between France and Belgium, set in the 1860s, and written in 1885. It has a curious strength to it that I didn't anticipate (my first Zola). The looming Voreux, Jeanlin's "muzzle", the ambiguous morality of characters like Deneulin,
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Souvarine, and Negrel, and the incredible depiction of the horses Bataille and Trompette are aspects that will stick with me for a long time. And there are deeper themes, like the way sexuality is woven through almost all the characters and linked to socialism through the mining theme and title: the germination of seeds in the earth. It is a remarkable book.
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LibraryThing member Mercury57
This was my first experience of Zola and I was blown away by the force of his writing. Since I come from a coal mining family myself, I've always known about the hardship faced by people who earn their living underground. But the desperate poverty of the families in this novel was heart wrenching,
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particularly so because Zola based his novel on actual events and meticulously researched the conditions of the miners. Even though as readers we know that the strike cannot succeed, but that knowledge doesn't help us deal with the painful consequences when it does fail. Highly symbolic and rich in imagery that is unforgettable. Whether you read the end as indicating there is a glimpse of hope, is another question.
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LibraryThing member Leonard_Seet
The wobbly cages descending into the pit, miners half-naked toiling in the scorching darkness of the mine’s galleries, the veins bursting and flooding the passages, the meager wages the miners receive at the end of the day, the wives desperately scouring for gruel each meal, the parents giving
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their daughters to the grocer to get flour and sugar; all recounted in a calmly detached voice.

Etienne, a vagrant worker, joined the fraternity and dissatisfied with the inhuman daily drudges and ambitious to rise above these defeated and resigned miners organized them into a union and led the strike. But the strike revealed as much the indifferences of the owners and managers as the ignorance and violence of the miners. After many lives perished, many families shattered, many mines destroyed, the strike failed, the miners returned to work and Etienne left. In Germinal, Zola harmonized the detached narrative voice with the miner’s sub-human existence and their potential for gratuitous evil to evoke a chilling sonata that would haunt the reader long after the novel’s conclusion.
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LibraryThing member thorold
If you thought L'Assommoir was as gruelling as an account of working-class life can be, well, you ain't seen nothing yet! Germinal is longer, tougher, more political, more complex, more engaged, more physical, more ambiguous, more everything. It's the ultimate industrial novel of the nineteenth
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century. Bar none. Zola takes us into the epic survival struggle of a mining community in the north of France with an unmatched closeness of observation and a viewpoint that is tied right down at the level of the miners and their families. We are only allowed to step back to our "normal" middle-class liberal novel-reader's viewpoint for a few short interludes where the strangely detached and unreal existence of the bourgeois management families is contrasted with the harsh reality of the miners.

It's not obvious how Zola did it, or how much is actual reportage and how much his own interpolation, but he shows us so much graphic detail of the practicalities of living with seven people and next-to-no money in a two-room cottage, or of how men, women and children work in the appalling underground conditions of the mine, that we can't help being drawn in and imagining ourselves in that situation.

And of course this is all about how that kind of life brutalises people and makes the normal conventions of social existence irrelevant. The brutality — of course, this is Zola we're talking about — comes out in the irresponsible and unrestrained sexual behaviour of the miners, in the anything-but-submissive behaviour of the women in the community, and in the frightening outbursts of violence that mark the big strike that forms the centrepiece of the action.

We see that the miners are hopelessly caught in the power of the capitalist mining companies, who are free to reduce their wages to the very limit of starvation. When they strike for more money, they are doomed to lose: they will always starve before the owners do, when it comes to the crunch the owners can always call up police and army to back them up, and there's always the real risk that by stopping work they give the earth the chance to take its revenge on the mine and thus do themselves out of a job... The miners look to socialists and anarchists for help, but the attractive picture of world revolution and the eventual overthrow of capitalism is belied by the revolutionaries' short-term political ambitions, which always end up overriding the miners' need for bread and a fair wage. And of course Zola's readers would have the fate of the Paris Commune fresh in their minds, and would be more than sceptical about revolutions.

Makes Sons and lovers look like a walk in the park...
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
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
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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."
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LibraryThing member John
Germinal is a terrific novel that deals with big social and personal issues through the lives and actions of varied, wonderful and well-drawn characters. The plot is strong and the action often gripping in the intensity of its description. The edition I read (Penquin Classics) also has an excellent
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introduction by the translator, Roger Pearson, who discusses the various themes within Germinal itself and within the broader context of Zola's life and ambitions as a writer.

The setting is the fictional town of Montsous in the coal mining district of France where a huge strike by the miners turns violent and ends with the miners going back to work after many deaths through starvation, shooting by the gendarmes, and disasters within the mines. It is a story of unprotected labour cruelly exploited by unfettered capital and the reduction of life, for the miners, to a world that is nasty, brutish, short, and shorn of any hope for improvement. The descriptions of the appalling living conditions of the miners, juxtaposed with the luxury and obtuseness of the bourgeois owners, is heart-wrenching. But even so, Zola does not paint the two sides black and white; there are rays of human happiness and connection among the miners, and wealth and a soft life do not guarantee happiness for the owners.

The novel has a dark sense to it, because much of the action takes place underground, because of the despair that pervades the lives of the miners, and because of the bleakness of the countryside marred by the pits and mines. Throughout, Zola describes the mines as voracious, almost living beasts that devour the workers: "crouching like some evil beast at the bottom of its lair, seemed to hunker down even further, puffing and panting in increasingly slow, deep bursts, as if it were struggling to digest its meal of human flesh". And if the digestion is not literal, in the sense of the death of a miner, it is still real in the degradation of health and growth and hope.

Some of the scenes, through the power of Zola's descriptions, are very powerful: the mad rampage by the miners from pit to pit, caught up in their own madness and spiraling thirst for violence, and the scene in the forest when the protagonist, Etienne, feels that he has thousands of people supporting him as one. These are also fine commentaries on uncontrollable and unpredictable mob mentality and its seductive appeal about which many have written and commented upon. Recall Imre Kertesz in his Nobel Lecture, speaking about marching ranks of German soldiers: "I perceived the irresistible attraction of those footfalls, that marching multitude. In a single moment I understood the ecstasy of self-abandonment, the intoxicating pleasure of melting into the was almost as though some physical forces were pushing me, pulling me toward the unseen marching columns."

Zola is no fan of the Catholic church or religion in general. The priests who minister to the miners are either useless or try to turn the anguish of the poverty and want into a stronger faith in the good life to come after. One of the characters in the novel is described as, " [his] face went white and his features contorted into a terrifying expression, moved by the kind of religious wrath that can exterminate entire races." Recall Pascal's merry aphorism that "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

Despite the bleakness of the lives of the miners and the story of the strike and its losses, Zola ends the book on an optimistic note: the workers have been defeated, but they have had a glimpse of the power they have in concerted action, and an awareness that their bleak and benighted lives are not foreordained but can be changed for the better.

A really, very fine read.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
This is the second Zola novel I've read, and once again I am astounded by his writing. I'm a huge fan of the naturalists in the US at the turn of the century (Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris), but this was written 50 years prior then these writers and much of the scenes are more brutal and intense
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then books written in the late 20th century. The novel centers around miners in France. They are uneducated, poor to the point of starving, alcoholics, and in many cases abusive. Zola seems to be unsure if this is the innate nature of the human species or if in different circumstances they would overcome it. Yet there are a few characters that show a tinge of hope in the human spirit. These of course, are compared to the few capitalists living large while thousands around them eat bread and fried onions at every meal. Just like the miners he does have a few capitalist characters that are hardworking, but are struggling to keep the mines open with the decline of the economy.
Zola uses two characters to debate socialism vs capitalism vs anarchy, and neither come to an agreement on how to improve the world. In the end the people's strike has failed, and the reader is left unsure of Zola's belief in humans.
There are 2 extremely brutal scenes with horses that really unnerved me. Also, one other mob scene is extremely violent to show how quickly the people can become out of control. Zola sort of hits the reader over the head with the metaphors of the dark evil mine (capitalist symbol) eating the humans.
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LibraryThing member yarb
Wow. Zola’s depiction of life in the pit, and the corresponding above-ground existence, is pummelingly bleak from the get-go. But just when I was inured to the crushing squalor and poverty and settling in for a story of the masses against the classes, the plot lurches into pure disaster territory
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with sequences of crowd-based madness bleeding into an Armageddon-like conclusion in which hell itself erupts from the coal beds of the Nord.

The characters, with one or two exceptions, aren’t especially deeply drawn, but they ring pretty true nonetheless. The writing is intense, with constant references to the devouring nature of the mines (the “Voreux” is the name of the main shaft) and the hunger for food, warmth and love/sex which drives people on like animals. Speaking of animals, Zola brilliantly paints the terrible plight of the pit-horses who lose their sight, live and die in Abaddon as an analogy for his human characters but also as tragic figures in their own right. Blind Bataille has to be one of the most important and well-drawn non-human characters in literature.

Intense and overwhelming, cloyed with sweat and coal dust.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
As a teenager I found the works of Theodore Dreiser engaging and read through several including his massive novel An American Tragedy. It was only through later study of the development of the art of the novel that I learned that his style was called Naturalism, at least an American variant of the
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style. So it was with a sense of recognition that I began to read Zola's Germinal, the first of his novels that I read, discovering a French writer with a similar style.

Emile Zola writes about Etienne, a a young man who lost his job as a mechanic for slugging a foreman, who travels to the north of France and obtains a job in a coal mine. He soon learns the ways of the poor mining families of that area, especially the children of the family with whom he lives for a while including a 15-year-old girl named Catharine, who becomes the subject of a bristling romantic rivalry between Etienne and another young miner, Chaval. Germinal chronicles the social woes of the miners and their attempts, with the help of Etienne, to better their situation. The union also enters the scene and romance is not the only source of tension for Zola's protagonist. This was an exciting book to read as I found Zola's style felicitous and lucid. While I have not read even half of the many novels in which he chronicled the lives and mores of French society I have enjoyed those like this one that I have read.
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LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
This is a book that I have wanted to read for quite some time so in some respects it was nice to finally get around to doing so. I had little idea of the subject matter beforehand so came to it with no real prejudices other than I knew it to be regarded as a 19th Century classic. I had not even
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realised that it was one of an extensive series of books.

For those who do not know the story it centres around a homeless unemployed man called Etienne Lantier who in desperation takes work in the harsh environment of a French coalmine. Once there he is horrified by both the working conditions and the treatment of the miners and their families by the mine owners that he decides to lead a strike against these distant owners.

The story is about an-awakening Socialism and working conditions during France's Second Empire to which end he certainly pulls no punches as he depicts it's harsh realities. Yet at the same time he tries to take no sides showing also the frailties and insecurities of the managers in charge of the mine, and how they too are not masters of their own destiny.

Although the story centres around Etienne there are no real heroes within this book and the gritty reality extends to the foibles and character faults of all within. There is good and bad shown in all just as in real life.

This is a great read and I can see why it is regarded as a classic. My one complaint is that the author perhaps goes into just a little too much detail turning it into a bit of a plod rather than a ripping page-turner. But for this point I would have given it 5 rather than the 4 stars that I did.
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LibraryThing member roblong
In 19th century France, the miners of Village Two Hundred and Forty go on strike after the company cuts their wages below subsistence level. The standoff becomes an outright war against their employers and the region's entire mining industry. This is brilliant, very harsh in places, and excellent
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at drawing attention to the many sides of the conflict. It felt a real document of its time too, both in terms of what people experienced and, maybe more importantly, what they thought about it.
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LibraryThing member MaowangVater
Out of work engineer Étienne Lantier crosses the plains of mid-nineteenth century northern France in search of work. Near the town of Montsou he walks up to the mouth of a coal pit and strikes up a conversation with an old man. The bad news is that there are no jobs for anyone to work on the
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machinery. But having no other work Étienne hangs around in hope that something will turn up. He’s in luck, of a sort, because the next morning, the old man’s son, Maheu, has an unexpected vacancy in his crew. One of his coal haulers was found dead the night before, whether of drink or a heart attack, no one knew. So Maheu takes on the inexperienced Étienne to fill out his crew, which includes his daughter Catherine. He’ll work to move the coal hacked out of the coalface on a cart on a rail line back to the mine shaft to be hauled to the surface, hundreds of feet above. One of the first things Étienne learns from Chaval, a rude and angry cutter, is that the work of a hauler is traditionally a woman’s job. The next thing he discovers is that Catherine is a girl, something that he had not recognized because of her drab worker’s clothing.

As this brutally realistic portrayal of coal mining, continues Chaval and Étienne will become rivals for Catherine, but this is no romance novel. Sex is as unerotic an escape from the hard work as getting drunk, and looked upon as way of creating more workers for the mine, and hence more income for a miner’s family. The economic disparity between the miners and the owners and managers of the mine, as well as the differing economic pressures upon the two groups is crux of the novel, and morality is subservient to them. But this is not just a political rant about the evils of capitalism or coal mining. Germinal is as exciting as a thriller, and as well wrought as any literary novel.

Pugh does a first rate job of narration. This is a great production and deserves high praise. I only wish that the publisher had cited the English translation that was edited or adapted by the narrator for this recording.
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LibraryThing member billt568
what a great book. set pieces, narrative, and settings all fantastic.
LibraryThing member otterley
An excellent translation of an important book. Zola's compelling story of the brutal humanity of a mining community in the north of France is hard hitting, politically and emotionally, and a powerful cry to the conscience.
LibraryThing member Elpaca
I'm a coal miner's daughter ( no, seriously) so this book was a must read. It rang with truth, easily connected to my family's oral history.
LibraryThing member McCaine
This is ?mile Zola's undisputed masterpiece in the Rougon-Macquart novel series. In each of the novels of this series Zola sketches in honest, human detail the life of the working class of 19th Century France; in Germinal, the center of attention is the mining industry of the far north.

The story
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describes the experience of an ex-machinist, Etienne Lantier (who appears as such in one of the other novels) in the Voreux and other mines around the town of Montsou, situated somewhat near Valenciennes. Starving and looking for a job in a period of industrial crisis, he is introduced to the reader as he arrives at the mine. Etienne soon manages to get a job there, and gets to know the great variety of characters that make up the local mining town. But his deep-felt social activism, combined with his somewhat higher education than the local miners, sets in motion a chain of events that changes both his life and that of the reader forever.

Zola's brilliant description of the reality of the struggle between classes and the effects, positive and negative, that zealous struggle for the improvement of the world can have on individual humans in dire straits is sure to haunt the reader for a long time. The author manages to describe both the miners, in their jealousy, pride, poverty and despair, as well as the local bourgeoisie in their misguidedness, personal issues and the pressures of capitalism with a deep understanding of the human psyche. The interactions between humans under pressure is described in powerful, terse dialogues and evocative passages.

The political and social background of the miners' desperate struggle for a decent living is the general theme of the book, but Zola avoids stereotypes and never clearly takes sides for any particular political position, deftly avoiding preachiness or sentimentalism. The incredible hardship and difficulty of the miners' lives and the degree to which the main characters manage to maintain a sense of dignity is sure to move even the coldest-hearted person, but Germinal is not a Dickens work and tear-jerking is more an effect of the book's quality than the goal of the writer.

Above all, however, Zola's best work is simply an incredibly riveting, exciting, deeply moving and tremendously powerful work of fiction. Read the rise and fall of Lantier, Maheu, Bonnemort, Deneulin, Catherine, Souvarin and the other comrades, and weep.
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LibraryThing member MIMIC880
The very title expresses the essence of the passion of this novel: seeds are planted and will germinate into an effective revolution. The germinating of that revolution is passionately portrayed in the toil of the various mine workers and their rise against the head company, with a newcomer
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spearheading the effort. You begin to pity the efforts of these people who are already suffering due to their uprising but gain respect for them when you realize that the fruits of their labor will one day materialize into something magnificent.
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LibraryThing member captgeoff
A graphic tale of the miners lives in Northern France at the end of the 19th century. After reading one realises that the working class French and British were little different at that time. In all probability also in the present.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Zola's naturalism is among my very favorite styles of literature, and Germinal is his Masterpiece, so my feelings about this novel are nothing but praise. I first read it at 16 and now again at 41. It feels so real, the people, places and events, it's hard to imagine they never existed - but in a
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way I suppose they did exist in mining towns all over the world. Such is the magic of Zola to merge the specific (fictional) and the general (reality) in a singular vision. I look forward to reading it again once enough time has passed as both readings have brought new insights and understandings.

After reading I watched Claude Berri's 1993 film adaptation, but in French which I am not fluent - however it didn't matter, it allowed the foregrounding of the beautiful sets and costumes which are the strengths of the film; Zola was a visual author which makes transition to film that much smoother. The vision I had built up from the novel matched up almost perfectly with the movie, suggesting Zola did an excellent job of getting at the reality of the thing - over 125 years of distance in time and a translation to English melt away through the power of words to bring a common experience.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
1180. Germinal, by Emile Zola (13 Aug 1972) This is the first Zola book I read, and I have only read one since. I cannot say I enjoyed this work. I found it an icky book. The people are animals most of the time. When I think of the abuse Thomas Hardy took for Tess and Jude--which are morality
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exemplified, compared to Zola! It is laid in French coal mine country in about 1867. The conditions are horrible, the people are loutish, a strike ensues, violence, death, sabotage, and in the end the protagoniat takes off for elsewhere. But I did not conclude I should read no more and I in fact did read another Zola work ( The Debacle) on 29 Nov 1985.
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LibraryThing member deebee1
Considered the greatest of Zola's 20-novel Rougon-Macquart cycle, Germinal is a charge against oppression, a chilling portrayal of the inhuman conditions of coal miners in northern France in the 1860s, and the outrage which drove them to resist further repression by the capitalist owners, that
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resulted in unforeseen and tragic consequences.

Etienne Lantier is an outsider who came into the gray mining towns looking for a job, and found one down in the pits. He is shocked by the conditions of the workers, men, women and children alike, clinging to the bare faced damp walls more than 500 meters below the ground, with very little air, exposed to dangerous gases, mud and rock slides, sudden floods, and all other unimaginable horrors every second of their time below, working like beasts for wages not even enough to feed their families. Life is brutish, and with no exception, everybody is old before their time, many are sick with all sorts of respiratory diseases, or maimed from a fall or accident. But to work is not an option. Children do not go to school, they are sent down into the mines very early.

A new and devious wage structure imposed by the company is the last straw, Etienne leads a strike. The effect is contagious, from one mine, it spreads to the rest of the region. The miners hold out, bearing their hunger, sitting out their time quietly, hoping that dialogues with the administrators would result in something positive. Nothing happens, the strike continues -- small children start dying of starvation. Yet they hold out. Then the companies start sending in the police, the guards. The strike turns violent --- there is sabotage, there is killing. The strike lasted six weeks. They couldn't hold out more, or they would be dying like flies. They return to the dark and noxious depths, having paid very dearly and not achieving anything. Yet the tragedies don't end here.

I couldn't put down this book --- there was so much realism in his depiction of the mines, the poverty of the families, the diseases of the miners, the hopelessness of their lives. With remarkable description, we feel we are down there too, in the depths. We are drawn to Etienne's strong, if somewhat naive convictions, to the rising fervor among the miners when they realise it's possible to have dreams of a better life, we are introduced to characters who represent the range of ideologies, from the stoic Sauverine who believes anarchy is the solution to social change, to the bar owner who from radicalism has mellowed, now believing no change is possible in a lifetime and that it is a long process, and to the social idealism of Etienne. We are introduced to individual families, to gossipy neighbors, to the petty alliances and loyalties of these families. We meet, as well, the bourgeoisie, the company lackeys, the representatives of the faceless investors in far-off Paris.

The themes are bleak, depressing even, but like the title, Germinal, which refers to the 7th month of the French Republican calendar (Mar/April) which heralds spring, the coming of new life, the germination of hope, we feel like Etienne, who continued on his way, keeping the small seed of hope that the fight is not yet over, and that a glorious day will yet arrive for those who believe.

As an aside, the description of hunger here and the harshness of life, is even more appalling and more gut-wrenching than in Knut's Hunger and in Solzhenitsyn's One Day....

Truly a masterpiece, a grand novel in every sense of the word. I cannot praise it enough.
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0192837028 / 9780192837028
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