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The Abyss (Black Swan) Paperback – 26 Apr 1985

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New edition edition (26 April 1985)
  • ISBN-10: 055299118X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552991186
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Marguerite Yourcenar instantly assumes command of our imagination in her novel "The Abyss." Almost before we know it, the author establishes a scene (a road in northern France) and time (the second quarter of the sixteenth century), and engages us in the fate of two cousins. The younger, sixteen-year-old Henry Maximilian, has set out to become a soldier and poet; the elder, twenty-two-year-old Zeno, has left a seminary to make himself an alchemist-philosopher. The book reads as if an old map--decorated with walled cities, boats on rivers, castles, people, and animals--had come alive . . . As rich as a tapestry."--Naomi Bliven, "The New Yorker"
"A brilliant tapestry of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, as sharply detailed as a Brueghel."--Michael Kernan, "The Washington Post"


Marguerite Yourcenar instantly assumes command of our imagination in her novel "The Abyss." Almost before we know it, the author establishes a scene (a road in northern France) and time (the second quarter of the sixteenth century), and engages us in the fate of two cousins. The younger, sixteen-year-old Henry Maximilian, has set out to become a soldier and poet; the elder, twenty-two-year-old Zeno, has left a seminary to make himself an alchemist-philosopher. The book reads as if an old map--decorated with walled cities, boats on rivers, castles, people, and animals--had come alive . . . As rich as a tapestry. "Naomi Bliven, The New Yorker"

A brilliant tapestry of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, as sharply detailed as a Brueghel. "Michael Kernan, The Washington Post"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-87) wrote stories, plays, poems, and novels, notably "Memoirs of Hadrian." She was the first woman to be elected to the Academie Francaise. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
After reading her Memoires of Hadrian, I was delighted to find that Yourcenar had written another historical novel. This book is so dense with detail and emotion that I was astounded and fascinated on almost every page. It is simply brilliant, successfully bringing to life a dark and alien period of history.

WHile this book, at least in French, is touted as being about a man "between the Medieval Ages and Renaissance," it is best at chronicling the personal consequences of the religious wars on everyday lives. Zenon is an alchemist, but above all a tolerant and humanistic physician in an age of religious intolerance. His caring and vision, after a neglected childhood in a merchants' household, are indeed deeply moving.

Zenon is a great original in historical fiction, an intellectual rather than a king or empire builder. You follow him as he wanders about Europe, learning, teaching, healing, and occasionally loving. The tenderness and empathy that he feels for those around him reveal the tenor of the times in exacting detail.

Warmly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
The main character in this novel, Zeno, is a physician, alchemist and philosopher who lives in the 16th century in Europe. This century is marked by extreme religious fanaticism (extermination of the Anabaptists in Münster), natural disasters (the plague) and the advent of many new ideas (Paracelsus, Copernicus), also in sexual matters (more freedom).

Zeno is the prototype of the anti-establishment protester who doubts, but who everywhere and openly expresses his views on the existing world order. Because of his outspokenness he is seen as a real danger by the existing politico-religious rulers.
His discussions with the masters of the world are crystal clear. Personally, they criticize heavily the existing world order. They see perfectly the huge dichotomy between their worldview and the real world, between the precepts of their religion and the real actions taken by their reigning politico-religious colleagues. But, there is no question of challenging the powers that be; they are in fact the first to profit from them.
After a wandering life in Europe, Zeno returns to Bruges, where he is attacked for his assistance to Protestants, his political tracts and a sex scandal in a cloister causing the death of a newborn.

Pessimism
While the 'Memoirs of Hadrian' are an expression of the author's serious hope in a political leader (a just and sincere emperor) who is capable to save the world, 'The Abyss' is a fundamentally pessimistic book which paints a world of pure ferocity.
This ferocity is a deeply ingrained human instinct, which expresses itself not only in religious dogmatism and fanaticism, but also in political tyranny and war.

This book is a long meditation on the sense of life, seeing the true nature of mankind, rampant selfishness and the cowardice of the masters of the world.
It is one of the greatest masterpieces of French and world literature.
A must read.
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Format: Hardcover
Born in Flanders, the illegitimate son of an Italian prelate, Zeno abandons his theological studies in Louvain to seek for knowledge untrammeled by doctrine. Impelled by the times and by his restless nature he wanders over a land torn by war and by the religious and social upheaval, attending sometimes upon sultans and kings, and sometimes upon the poor and the plague-ridden. Often a target for jealous colleagues, Zeno is suspect for the daring of his experiments, for his writings and for his barely avowed atheism. ....A magnificent tapestry of northern Renaissance Europe: a throng of minor characters - merchants, bankers, churchmen, artisans, women of every sort and condition - people the narrative. But no one is introduced for mere picturesque effect; rather, the years 1510-69 are depicted as is rarely done for the past, presented in both their commonplace and their more subversive aspects.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've only just started reading this so cannot give a full review. Having read a collection of Yourcenar's short stories, I was looking forward to tight writing and unsentimentality. So far I've found the writing a little tortuous
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