So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Blacksmith's Hammer, or The Peasant Code A Tale of the Grand Monarch

The Blacksmith's Hammer, or The Peasant Code A Tale of the Grand Monarch by Eugene Sue
The Blacksmith's Hammer, or The Peasant Code A Tale of the Grand Monarch is the 18th book of Eugene Sue's 20 volume series The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age. The series was created to be novelization of European history that depicted the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typifies the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted in a series of stories that culminate in the European Revolutions of 1848.
The Blacksmith's Hammer, which is set in the 1670's, is a sequel to the events of the previous book in the series, The Pocket Bible, which was set in Paris in the 16th century. It is Eugene Sue's Romeo and Juliet, a tale of two lovers from the opposing families of the series, one Gallic and the other Frankish. Having been divided by race and class for so many years, Calvinism has finally created a bridge that can unite Bertha of Plouernel and Nominoë Lebrenn.
Part One takes place in 1672 Holland during William of Orange's persecution and murder of John and Cornelius De Witt. A French ship on its way to England is caught in a storm and seeks safe harbor along the Dutch coast. On board is the young and beautiful Bertha of Plouernel. With it's main mast and rudder lost to the storm, the ship is helpless and sends out distress signals. Just when all hope seems lost, a ship skillfully piloted by a virile and charming young man appears and tows them into the harbor at Delft. The seaman is Nominoë Lebrenn, who goes on to save Bertha's life several times and they fall in love.
Part Two takes place in Brittany during the Revolt of the Bonnets Rouges of 1675. Nominoë is one of the leaders of the peasant revolt and Bertha is the sister of Baron Raoul of Plouernel, the local landlord, whose taxes have caused the unrest. In addition to being a story of a great love, Eugene Sue makes both lovers politically aware of how their love could unite a country and their two races, healing centuries of class struggle.
While this is a sequel to the previous book in the series, it can be read on its own as the characters have their own compelling story to tell. Typical of the series, the author weaves his own fictional families into the real events of the period to create drama while maintaining historic accuracy.
Each volume in this series has a preface by their translator, the Socialist publisher Daniel De Leon, that helps set the story in the history of the labor movement of the early 20th century when these books were first made available to American readers.

TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton observes of fiction that, when aspiring at something higher than mere romance, it does not pervert, but elucidates the facts of the times in which the scene is placed; hence, that fiction serves to illustrate those truths which history is too often compelled to leave to the tale-teller, the dramatist and the poet. In this story, The Blacksmith's Hammer; or, The Peasant Code--the seventeenth of the charming series of Eugene Sue's historic novels, The Mysteries of the People; or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages--the author reaches a height in which are combined all the elements that Bulwer-Lytton distributes among history, tale, drama and poetry. The history is clean cut; the tale fascinates; its dramatic presentation is matchless; last, not least, the poetic note is lyric. As historian, as tale-teller, as dramatist and as a poet the author excels himself in this narrative, that serves at once as a sequel of the age described in the previous story, , and as prelude to the great épopée of the next story that deals with the French Revolution.
DANIEL DE LEON.
New York, March, 1910.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Barefoot Gen Volume Six: Writing the Truth

Barefoot Gen Volume Six: Writing the Truth, by Keiji Nakazawa
The Barefoot Gen series of 10 graphic novels tells the story of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima Japan through the eyes of a young boy Gen Nakaoka who relates the events lived through by the author Keiji Nakazawa. Book 6, Writing the Truth is set in the summer of 1948, three years after the war has officially ended. Gen's father, sister and brother were killed during the blast, and his mother now suffers from radiation sickness. Gen's older brother Koji has left to work in a coal mine to earn money for the family, leaving Gen and his younger brother Akira to care for their sick mother and find food and medical care. Gen has befriended a group of street orphans who develop scheme after scheme to find food, raise money, or steal what they need.
The book opens with the orphans raising money by selling bomb victim skulls to American soldiers as souvenirs. With the money they hope to go into the countryside and buy rice but they have to sneak it past police checkpoints that confiscate black market food being smuggled into the city.
As Gen's mother continues to decline from her bomb-induced radiation sickness, Gen's orphan friend Ryuta, who has adopted Gen's mother as his own, devises a daring plan to rob a group of gangsters to get the money for her care. Once the mob swears to revenge themselves, his only hope of escape to Tokyo is thwarted by their searching for him.
Gen sees a young woman attempting suicide and, when he rescues her, discovers she is Natsue, a radiation-scarred child he met in the days following the blast. She tells him of her desperate life following the blast and her despair at never being able to be the dancer she wanted to be. Gen brings her to the shelter he and his war orphan friends have built, where the only girl orphan Katsuko, who also has facial scars from the bomb, befriends her. The two girls devise a plan to start making clothing to sell.
The orphans live with an old man who is slowly dying from radiation poisoning. He has written a book about the bombing of Hiroshima and hopes to see it published before he dies. Too sick himself, Gen tries to find someone to print the book. The local publishers and printers are afraid of the Americans and will not consider it. The title Writing the Truth comes from the attempts to publish this truthful story of the bombing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Barefoot Gen Volume Five: The Never-Ending War

Barefoot Gen Volume Five: The Never-Ending War by Keiji Nakazawa

The Barefoot Gen series of 10 graphic novels tells the story of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima Japan through the eyes of a young boy Gen Nakaoka who relates the events lived through by the author Keiji Nakazawa. Book 5, The Never-Ending War starts in December 1947, two and a half years after the war has officially ended. Hiroshima is being repaired and is occupied by American troops. The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission has set up labs to evaluate the effects of the blast on the people. Gen's father, sister and brother were killed during the blast, and his mother now suffers from radiation sickness. Gen's older brother Koji has to leave to work in a coal mine to earn money for the family, leaving Gen and his younger brother Akira to care for their sick mother and find food and medical care. Gen has befriended a group of street orphans who have been working for local racketeers and helps them escape a life of crime. This is a difficult book because it portrays the hardships that continue long after war is over. The Never-Ending War is the constant struggle that Gen, his friends and family must endure years after the war ended.