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City of Darkness, City of Light

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  867 ratings  ·  74 reviews
In her most splendid, thought-provoking novel yet, Marge Piercy brings to vibrant life three women who play prominent roles in the tumultuous, bloody French Revolution--as well as their more famous male counterparts.

Defiantly independent Claire Lacombe tests her theory: if men can make things happen, perhaps women can too. . . . Manon Philipon finds she has a talent for p
Paperback, 479 pages
Published August 12th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1996)
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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska OrczyA Place of Greater Safety by Hilary MantelMadame Tussaud by Michelle MoranMarie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
The French Revolution
22nd out of 150 books — 183 voters
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre DumasA Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensSpirit of Lost Angels by Liza PerratThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Historical Fiction - France
48th out of 254 books — 173 voters

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Community Reviews

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My friend Jemidar and I decided to read this book together because after finishing Hilary Mantel's wonderful A Place of Greater Safety, we missed its chief protagonists, that is, Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, and we wanted to further immerse ourselves in the events of the French Revolution. The novel tells the stories of Danton and Robespierre, along with those of three other players in the Revolution: actress Claire Lacombe and chocolate maker Pauline Lé

Well written and very well researched novel about the French Revolution which refreshingly included a couple of characters who are not amoung the usual suspects when reading about the revolution. Besides the well known Danton and Robespeirre and the slightly lesser known Manon Roland and Nicolas Condorcet, we also follow Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon who founded the first all women's political organisation (the Revolutionary Republican Women) so there's a nice mix of point of views from men an
This was a wonderful book and I will definitely write a review about it soon!
This book was an enjoyable novelistic summary of the French Revolution: pre- , during, and post-, with an epilogue, [not called as such] of three characters meeting years later [1812] and discussing what had been accomplished during the Revolution years, even with the excesses. The story follows six main figures: Robespierre, Danton, Condorcet and three women [who seemed like platforms for Piercy's blatant feminism]. The first part of the novel: years 1780-1791 were much more interesting. 1792 d ...more
brilliant. read it 3 times :)
Aug 20, 2014 Stana rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Francophiles, History buffs, and anyone who enjoys a great book.
Recommended to Stana by: Rachel Bonk
For me, Reading Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light was like entering a time machine; it made me feel I was actually living through the French Revolution! The story is told through six actual historical figures: Claire Lacombe, Maximilien Robespierre, Manon Roland, Pauline Leon, Marie Jean Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet and Georges-Jacques Danton. Through their actions and associations, we meet most of the major figures of the period. I read this book for the first time about 1 ...more
Suzanne Prichard
It cured me of my obsession with the French Revolution. What is that called, the technique of having every chapter be a different character - and nobody ever really interacts? I I know - LAZY!
Piercy at her best. Though in my opinion she is very nearly never at less than her best.
Marge Piercy recreates a well-rounded experience of The French Revolution by alternating the point-of-view of different characters: Claire (an actress), Max (Robespierre), Nicolas (an academic), Manon (an artisan's daughter/bureaucrat's wife), Pauline (a chocolatier), and Georges (an aspiring politician).

Through these main characters the reader learns how the revolution affected different groups of people. Pauline and Claire are the closest to the poor people (the sans-coulottes) and the women w
Perry Whitford
A breakneck recreation of the momentous events of the French Revolution, expertly told through the eyes of six combatants, ideally chosen women and men who shaped events from the streets and salons:
Claire - Lacombe, starts out a poor laundress in the southern town of Pamiers, but has dreams of a better life and runs off with a traveling troop of actors, eventually playing the role in Liberty in pro-revolutionary plays and takes to the streets with the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women.
City... tells the tumultuous tale of the French Revolution from the point of view of a number of key players in the events of the time.

The Good
Most tales of the French Revolution follow the key players: Robespierre, Danton, Desmoulins... but I liked that this book introduced me to two new individuals from the time: Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon, and was therefore able to provide a more personalized and detailed account of the strong role women played in the revolution- more than just "hey, th
To be honest, I was initially certain that this novel couldn't equal the incandescently brilliant 'A Place of Greater Safety' by Hilary Mantel. This put it at rather a disadvantage, but nonetheless I ended up enjoying it nearly as much as Mantel's masterpiece. Piercy uses six different points of view to show how the French Revolution unfolded, of which three are women. This is where the two novels differed most importantly, in my view. In 'A Place of Greater Safely' I felt very close to Robespie ...more
I just reread this. It's great historical fiction with strong female characters. And they strong without making them seem too modern for the setting like in the Red Tent or books like that. And Piercy puts women at the center of some of the great Fr. Rev action -- but she also very realistically keeps them out of the decision making and the end absolutely rings true.

The portrayal of Robespierre is especially good here because he comes across as much more human and more real than he ever did in
This book offers a reader-friendly account of the French Revolution through six men and women who played an active role in it: well known figures like Robespierre, Danton, Mme Roland, Condorcet and some less recognizable ones (unsurprisingly enough women) like the actress Claire Lecombe and the chocolate maker Pauline Leon, who were the leaders of a protofeminist women's group.

It was certainly interesting to learn about the latter ones, as I had hardly ever heard about them. It was equally inte
Marge Piercy's historical novels are well-researched forays into a kind of history I wish they'd taught me in high school -- I might have paid more attention! City of Darkness, City of Light chronicles the tumult of the French Revolution from the perspective of about five real historical characters, including two women responsible for co-founding the Republican Revolutionary Women, a political and activist organization comprised entirely of women who made public speeches, demonstrated in the Leg ...more
Danton, Condorcet and Robespierre. Or as we get to know them in this book, Georges, Nicolas and Max. As the French revolution unfolds, what is daily life like for them? What mundane thoughts do they have about city life, companionship and pets? And what of Claire and Pauline, an actress and chocolatier who find new lives, friends and comrades as they work to make their voices heard and advance the revolution they want to see? Piercy is a master at creating a world you can smell, taste and touch ...more
I really enjoyed this novel, which depicts the French Revolution from the alternating (third person) perspectives of six major figures, who each played different but important roles within it: Claire Lacombe, Pauline Léon, Manon Roland, Nicolas de Condorcet, Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton. Each protagonist's voice is distinct, and Piercy portrays them all in a sympathetic yet even-handed way. The events themselves are not over-simplified either - in particular, while the paranoia and ...more
A very hard book to write and I, enjoyed might not be the right word, but enjoyed the effort - though more the history than the literary/story aspect apart from Pauline and Claire whom I loved. Love the French Revolution as a historian and seeing humanity being put back into it was fascinating.
Linda Loewen
This is a piece of historical fiction set before, during, and after the French Revolution. Follows the lives of 3 women and 2 men, of whom some are commoners and some are famous. eg Maximillian Robespierre. A great read.
The last of the graphic novels to arrive of the batch I bought for school, this is not one of my favorites, but is perhaps one of the best in that it will be accessible to students of all ages. Avi and Floca tell a whimsical story about the Kurbs, supernatural beings that own Manhattan island and lease it to people for the price of an annual ritual hunt for a magical subway token. (I doubt the story would be as well if it were a metrocard that were at the center of controversy.) Floca’s illustra ...more
The first couple hundred pages of this book were very interesting - the French Revolution from the point of view of the vampire several different players (Robespierre, Danton, sans-culotte women and more) but I've really been struggling to read past page 300.

The one thing this is really bringing home to me is how long the revolution took; in school we just kind of learned "blah blah Bastille, blah blah Tennis Court Oath, and then there was a revolution, lots of people died, let's move on to Napo
I did enjoy the book, but I think the first part (1789-1791) was stronger. The POVs varied in quality, I found Pauline, Danton, Claire and Robespierre's stronger than Manon and Condorcet's. There were some characterisation choices I don't agree with: I think Danton lacked some strenght and I am not so sure about Robespierre's portrayal of ever-increasing insanity, as well as his treatment of Elèanor.

The prose was flat at some points but it was good at showing the material realities of Paris in
Pamela J
Intrigued by the historical topic of the French Revolution and its leaders, I picked this up after having read the Madison Smartt Bell Haitian revolution trilogy and Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety . While I have great respect for Piercy as a chronicler and researcher, I do prefer the aforementioned works from this period. Percy's short sentences and expository emphasis stress the novel's plot driven quality. It was not a book I couldn't put down; in fact my profound interest in the F ...more
Loved it. The french revolution. Marge Piercy is a very feminist writer who always writes about everyday people. In this case the French Commune was positively revolting.
Yesterday I saw an art museum exhibit of the tuilleries, Catherine Medici's sculpture garden. Interesting to think that the palace grounds described in this book as a place where unreal people hung out to see & be seen is the same place all this amazing art came from. My favorite pice was a larger than life staue of a shepar
My one gripe with this fictionalized history has more to do with history than the book itself. The constantly revolving cast of characters had my head spinning. And while it's not a Russian novel with 14 names for each character, Pierce often does refer to the same character by both first and last name in the same paragraph, which slows me down quite a bit.

I feel like I learned something about the French Revolution, but mostly I got a better sense of how the revolution was a revolving door of go
Sep 17, 2009 Ahf added it
I've been looking for a fictional book about the french revolution that would really explain its origins and progression. Tried Tale of 2 cities, which of course is a great book, but it didn't introduce me to the characters and progression of the revolution. This did. Not an easy or fun read- basically 8 stories of initially unrelated people's experience of the revoultion and role in it. I enjoyed that it includes women as primary characters, and includes some background on slavery and women's r ...more
It took me a few tries to get into this book, but once I did I was captivated. Piercy tells the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of a handful of the major players, including several women. The books does a great job of giving the story of the French Revolution more dimension than it gets in history textbooks. It also describes the Reign of Terror, illuminating it as a witch hunt. Piercy also does a great job of making most of the characters, in spite of their wildly differing ...more
My feelings on this book were really divided. Sometimes I was really pulled in and captivated by the characters. Other times, I felt like it couldn't go by fast enough. I think part of the problem was that I wasn't really thrilled by the style the story was written in; it felt very much like telling instead of showing. Still, it was a very interesting look at the French Revolution, a subject that I don't do a lot of reading on, and it made me think that I might like to do more reading about it i ...more
for those of you who like historical fiction, this is a must-read! sure, like most hist fic, it takes a good 100 pages (or so) to really get into, but once you do, you might find yourself sucked into the daily relationships, politics, and social circles of characters who were instrumentally involved in the french revolution--some whose names you might remember from a fifth-grade "history" class. focuses a lot on the women of the revolution. they weren't just sitting at home picking their toenail ...more
Continuing my french revolution fest with this book...which was a bit disappointing. As I was checking it out of the library, I got into a conversation with one of the librarians who said that she had read it and she felt that it just didn't ring particularly true. I totally agree with that statement, it just didn't feel like real, fleshed out characters and I couldn't find myself invested in any of them. Plus, its really long...and it ends up feeling like one of those books which FEELS very lon ...more
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Marge Piercy (born March 31, 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Gone to Soldiers, a sweeping historical novel set during World War II.

Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a family deeply affected by the Great Depression. She was the first in her family to attend college, studying at the University of Michigan. Winning a
More about Marge Piercy...
Woman on the Edge of Time He, She and It Gone to Soldiers The Moon Is Always Female: Poems Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York

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