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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel about birth and death, 27 Dec. 2000
By 
K. S. Tait (Livingston, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
"The Earth" (La Terre) is one of the cycle of twenty Rougon-Macquart novels in which Zola explored various aspects of 19th Century French society. The characters in the novels are all interrelated and in them Zola examines the effects of heredity on human character. But the best things about all his novels are his talent for creating larger than life characters and the intricate details with which he laces his plot. "The Earth" deals with the decline of the Fouan family. It was probably influenced by the plot of King Lear as it shows what happens when an old man divides his land between his family and how selfishness and greed tear the family apart. This maybe sounds like a very heavy classic. But it is not. The novel contains a wealth of really amusing episodes (such as the farting competition in which Jesus Christ, one of the cruder characters, shows his virtuosity in blowing out candle flames by wind power.) It also contains some very sexually explicit scenes, including a rape, which must have been really strong stuff for the audience of the period and makes you realise how far ahead of his time Zola really was. The book has been filmed as "The Good Earth" but this is a fairly watered down version of the text. My advice is - read it. It may be long and quite complicated, but stick with the opening chapters and I guarantee you'll soon be hooked on Zola.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth by Emile Zola, 2 Jan. 2004
By 
Strangerbird (United Kingdom.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
LaTerre formed part of a cycle of twenty `Rougon-Macquart'novels by Émile Zola (1840-1902).In places, his writing borrows heavily from Romanticism but Zola was an early pioneer of the `naturalistic' movement which attempted to take away all artificiality from fiction, depicting in raw honesty, the lives of ordinary people. The Earth takes place in the period between Solferino in 1859 and the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, in Beauce, on the Aigre, close to the town of Cloyes, a region dependant mostly on wheat, a little sheep grazing and the grape.

Zola paints vividly. `Before the winter ploughing starts, Beauce is covered in manure as far as the eye can see. Under the pale September skies, from dawn till dusk, carts brimming with steaming piles of old litter would make their way slowly along country roads as though delivering heat itself to the land...a sort of heaving, surging, sea of manure from cowshed and stable...the whole future growth of spring was borne along on this fermenting flood of [decomposition]... And from one end of the vast plain to the other, you could smell the stench of all this animal excrement, from which man's daily bread would come.' The heroine is simply the land. When the boorish Buteau, wife-beater, rapist, killer in turn of each of his frail and aged parents, had done his backbreaking day's toil , he would go back and with tenderness `contemplate [his fields] like a lover'. After a long period of drought, with tempers sore and miserable, the warm summer raindrops fall like five-centime coins. That is the centrepiece of Zola's work. His characters serve this canvas, and highly colourful and charismatic though they are, they cannot, even collectively, appear more than as mere ants by comparison to Mother Earth.

The account of peasant life transcends revolutions, both industrial and political, wars, and the pressure for change. On dark winter nights they talk endlessly of folk-legends from well before the demise of the ancien regime, old yarns of robber-baron armies evicting an entire village, possessing its crops, its livestock and its women. But they all knew who had benefited from the large parcels of aristocratic and church land that were sold at the Revolution, and it was not the likes of them. Elemental needs had not changed for centuries. Food, shelter, the satisfaction of sexual passions, security in old age, were negotiated under brutally hard and unpredictable circumstances, according to peasant lore, no matter who the rulers. Whether times were lean or plentiful, there was little remedy outside the natural powers of endurance. A hailstorm which, in the space of ten minutes, destroys the crops of the village is accepted in the only way possible, with stoicism and replanting.

Parmée sees Zola's peasants as `tough, harsh and ungrateful, concerned only with their own short-term interest, understanding only coercion and thus kowtowing to any established authority, superstitious, barely Christian, though perhaps deists, childish, deceitful, stoical, mean and greedy' At the same time he observes, such nasty characteristics are understandable in a context of unremitting toil and grinding poverty.

Parmée says that Zola's direct knowledge of country life was not inconsiderable. Clearly many of the obvious characteristics of nineteenth-century French history are evident. Perils of ever-increasing subdivision of the land, into smaller and smaller holdings, under the French system of inheritance, take centre-stage. Compulsive sexual desires desperately interrupted mid-coitus, provide evidence to the real costs of more mouths to feed. It is clear from the dialogue among older characters, that religion and the church have lost authority during their lifetimes. There is an expectation that the priest will conduct baptisms, weddings and funerals. Superstition abounds over such as the positioning of a grave, prayers will be offered by the desperate, but nobody seems to care enough for the parish to provide the funds to replace a retiring priest.

Peasant rebellion is not clearly focused. One encounters no gentry, as one would in an English novel of the period. Only Canon, the townie, shocks the country folk by talking glibly about guillotining the toffs. Arguments for and against the Emperor's policy of free-trade, the value of farm mechanisation and artificial fertilizers, are conducted between the few characters with important financial interests, as well as two, of more urban provenance, who are familiar with revolutionary ideology. The schoolteacher provides a detailed and worrying description of the American prairies, mechanised and vast, which he says will flood France with cheap grain and consign all their days to poverty.

At his death in 1902 Zola was recognised as one of Europe's greatest writers. Berg talks of his `unique artistry, a poetry of machine and motion, vitalised by the individual viewpoint, yet structured by vast networks of imagery that capture the intense activity and alienation of modern society...above all Zola's writings endure on account of his forthright portrayal of social injustice, his staunch defence of the downtrodden.' The most enduring monument to his character will always be the part that he played in the exposing of the Dreyfus affair, through his famous open-letter J'accuse, and his subsequent trial. The Rougon-Macquart series, of which The Earth was his own favourite, constitute a family saga that accompanies the events, institutions and ideas associated with the rise of industrialisation. Zola was eulogised at his funeral, by Anatole France, as having been not only a great man but `a moment in the human conscience'.

Bibliography.

William J. Berg, `Emile Zola' in Encyclopædia Britannica, CD98, Multimedia Edition, International Version.

Émile Zola, The Earth : translated from the French, with an introduction by Douglas Parmée (Penguin, London 1980)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, compelling - but not uplifting, 30 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
This is a book which I love and hate in about equal measure - because it is an excellent book, beautifully written, but really rather depressing. For this episode Zola has deployed the basically good but weak Jean, formerly a soldier, in the world of the small peasant farmer. This provides ample opportunity for Zola's wonderful realistic descriptions of the countryside - you really can almost smell the earth for which the book is named. It also provides a hard world against which Jean can fail; as in Zola's view his heredity fates him to do. The struggle of the farmer with the land which he loves rings through every page - the obession, the small returns, the back breaking (and for one character fatally hard) work. Against this struggle it is no wonder that the worst of each character seems to come to the fore and that poor Jean, caught up in a fight for which he was not born, is chewed up and spat out.
For my money not the best of the Rougon-Macquart novels - but completely worth reading at least once - and calls you back to re-read it when you drive through the French countryside which he describes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emile Zola - The Earth, 7 Oct. 2010
By 
Polka (Madrid, Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
A book in Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle not sufficiently well-known in UK. At times it may seem exaggerated and semi-pornographical. In my opinion, however, it wasn't meant to be taken as a literal factual account: rather as a synthesis of the deterministic brutality, squalor and ignorance of 19th century rural life. It's also extremely funny at times, with a lavatory-style humour very entertaining to those who are not too squeamish.
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5.0 out of 5 stars And only the Earth is immortal, 15 Aug. 2010
By 
A. Willard (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
`La Terre' is connected to Zola's other Rougon-Macquart novels by the presence of Jean Macquart, an ex-soldier now attempting to make his living as a farm worker. The books real protagonists, however, are the `true' peasants of the Fouan family.

Old Man Fouan's decision to divide his land amongst his three children, after age has robbed him of the ability to continue to make his living, turns out to have terrible consequences not just for himself, his wife, children and other members of his extended family, but also for Jean.

Even by Zola's standards this is powerful and bleak stuff; the characters do terrible, cruel things to each other but he does not judge - this is how their life is, how the desperate struggle to survive has made them. Nowhere is that as clear as in the character of Fouan's youngest son, Buteau. A greedy, spiteful, cruel man, who by the book's end has become a rapist and parricide, Buteau is the true `hero' of the book; Jean's watery vacillating is no match for Buteau's blind, selfish love for his land, the earth. And that, Zola seems to say, is how it should be.

The book ends with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war; Jean re-enlists to defend the land he cannot live on and, incidentally, marches into Zola's next novel, the magnificent `La Debacle'.

A great novel by a truly great writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth, 24 Aug. 2012
By 
C. Wilkinson "Chris the Book" (Crystal Palace England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Any Zola fan will love the characters described in Zola's rich prose. Story is based mainly on one family in a small French village. The story is pedestrian as is the way of life of the peasants. Excellent historical and social insight into this period of French rural and political life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth by Emile Zola, 5 May 2013
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
I read this when I was 12 years old and liked it. Now living in Brittany France, the book brings to life the peasant love of the land before family ties. It was like reading an old friend's letter. I intend to buy other books by Zola.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Give me more!, 22 Nov. 2011
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Ra Baxter "douglas" (liverpool) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Earth (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
Cant praise this book highly enough.....A disturbing and salutory insight into human nature.If there had been another 500 pages to this book-I would have read them all........
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5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic, 27 Nov. 2012
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i love Zolas books. Naturalist and romantic by nature he discribes every single scenario minutely. Its an old book but the works are up to date.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 1 April 2014
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A satisfying account of life in rural France. Glistening with gory bucolic detail The Earth is shockingly honest and breathtakingly true.
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The Earth (Classics)
The Earth (Classics) by Émile Zola (Mass Market Paperback - 26 Jun. 1980)
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