Sunday, 8 January 2017

Review: The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case

The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case by Michael Rosen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the turn of the 19th century the famous writer, Émile Zola is fleeing from his home country of France. Carrying a nightshirt, he takes the train from the Gare du Nord, crosses the channel and heads to London. He had committed no crime, just had the audacity to take on the French government over the handling and verdict of treason handed out to a Jewish artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Like many others, Zola believed he was innocent and the real culprit for handing over secrets to the Germans was another officer, Major Esterhazy. Zola’s open letter, 'J'accuse', published in L’Aurore, accused the French Army and establishment of antisemitism and injustice. The intention of this provocation was to be sued for libel so that documents in the Dreyfus case could be revealed and the innocent man freed.

It didn’t quite work out like that, hence why he was on his way to London.

Rosen has in this book revealed a fascinating little piece of history of a world-renowned writer who believed in justice and the truth. He details his movements into London and out into Weybridge, keeping a low profile, unlike his previous high profile visit where he was lauded and celebrated. We learn about the two women in his life, his wife Alexandrine and the mother of his children, Jeanne; it was a complex ménage-a-trois; He was not overly enamored with the weather in England, and loathed the food, but used some of the time here to embark on the Les Quatre Évangiles novels.

I have read a couple of Rosen’s books before, including as most parents would know well, Going on a Bear Hunt. I have never read any of Zola's novels as yet and knew almost nothing about him, but Rosen’s skill as a writer means that he has added in those little details to the narrative to show Zola’s flaws and qualities without it becoming too bogged down. Definitely, a must read for any Zola fan, I found it an interesting account of a small slice of history.

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