La Débâcle (Les Rougon-Macquart, #19)
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La Débâcle (Les Rougon-Macquart #19)

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  445 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The penultimate novel of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, La Debacle (1892) concerns the dramatic events of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune of 1870-71. During Zola's lifetime, it was the best-selling of all his novels, praised by contemporaries for its epic sweep as well as its attention to historical detail. The novel seeks to explain why the Second Empire ended in crus...more
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Published (first published 1892)
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Jim
Emile Zola takes as his subject one of the most searing moments in French history: The defeat at Sedan in the abortive Franco-Prussian War, followed by the Paris Commune, in which the inhabitants of Paris, in effect, rose up and nullified the Versailles government under Adolphe Thiers. The action is seen through the eyes of two soldier friends, Jean Macquart and Maurice Levasseur.

Although the breadth of the subject matter makes it difficult for The Debacle not to appear to be too diffuse, Zola...more
Abigail
When I think of war novels, I'm inexorably drawn towards the literature of WWI. Maybe because I've studied them more, maybe because it was the first genuinely modern war, a naive continent wrenched into the brutality of the twentieth century. It's relatively easy to forget that the Great War doesn't have the monopoly on modern European war literature. It seems such a unique experience, at that time when warfare was changing forever, but of course the seeds of those changes in warfare are to be f...more
Frosh
I read the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Leonard Tancock, which, I will admit, gave me the liberty to refer to the title as "The Debacle," which I appreciated, as my tongue doesn't work very well in French. The Tancock translation works fine, but it did seem a little rigid at times; the Penguin version of GERMINAL goes by without any effort at all, so I was surprised when I had to work through parts of this book. Maybe the Oxford version is better?

Someone recommended this novel as bei...more
Aaron Arnold
Last year I read Germinal, which was about post-Second Empire coal miners struggling to survive the Industrial Revolution. This volume (#19 of 20) of the Rougon-Macquart universe is set a bit earlier, beginning in 1870 right before the fatal blow to Napoleon III's reign at the infamous Battle of Sedan and finishing at the climax of the Paris Commune. Most of the book is taken up by a sort of buddy movie starring two ordinary French soldiers suffering through the poor organization and even worse...more
J.M. Hushour
The penultimate novel in Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart is one of the rare ones I found uninteresting to a certain degree. More than any other of the twenty novels of the series, here Zola immerses himself in his meticulous attention to historical detail. This is arguably necessary from the point of view of his goal writ large: to portray the downfall and final, disastrous end of the Second Empire and Napoleon III. So, yes, yes, he has to cover the endless marches across northern France, Sedan and i...more
Florent
Bien documenté, un poil long, mais plutôt agréable pour un Zola. L'histoire est bien rythmée. Je n'ai pas lu les 18 premiers tomes de la saga ...
Mike Clinton
I went through an arc with this book, which started out slow and uneventful; it must have been Zola's purpose, though, to convey the plodding and desultory sense of aimlessness and helplessness that affected the French soldiers in the lead-up to Sedan. The intricacies of the various sub-plots, the grand sweep and nuances of the historical scenes, the predicaments and personalities of the characters,the vivid and forceful language Zola uses all engrossed me, though, and I became drawn in and comp...more
Jemma
As you might expect with Zola, this is a masterpiece of a novel encompassing the personal and political, during the French defeat at Sedan and the Paris Commune. I picked this largely because I have read little about the Commune and even less about Sedan and this seemed like an oversight. The Commune attracts some attention as a proto-Communist revolution but Sedan is something that is largely ignored, despite it being the first of the 3 German assaults on France by essentially the same means. P...more
Robert French
Feb 23, 2014 Robert French marked it as shelve-for-later  ·  review of another edition
On my mother's side, my great grandparents emigrated to the United States in the 1870's. Family stories implied that they emigrated before and possibly because of the Franco-Prussian War. They may also have left to avoid family members from being drafted into the Prussian Army. I recently did some additional research and understand that the conscription of every male Prussian of military age in the event of mobilization was enacted by Albrecht von Roon, the Prussian Minister of War in 1860s. Thi...more
Charles Puskas
Well-researched historical fiction on the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 by a great French novelist, Emile Zola (Germinal). It was written 23 years after the event and the author read a stack of accounts and was able to interview some eyewitnesses. His fictional and quasi-historical characters help you to empathize with those (military and civilian) who experienced this tragic war and its aftermath which was an indirect cause of WW I. Many of his favorite characters suffer or die as he narrates...more
Michael
J'accuse The Debacle of being another fine Zola novel. I've only been reading him for a couple of years now but really like him. The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2010 ed. includes no fewer than 5 Zola novels, which must rank him near the top of authors in the book. I don't know if he's really the "French Dickens" as I tend to think of him, but I do know that his much vaunted realism is on full display in his account of the ill-fated Franco-Prussian War here. There is a 10 page stretc...more
Aurimas Nov
So far the finest selection of French literature. Although I`ve enjoyed many novels written by Zola, Proust, Hugo and others, this piece of literature seems to be the best. If you look into it from the point of view of criticism, La Débâcle is undeniably strong. If you look into it from the aesthetic point of view, the book moves one more than one might expect.
E.Zola did a huge research and depicted the maybe ugliest French war in a very precise and fine way. Characters are also exciting, surel...more
Michael
I think Zola is soft on the butchers of the Paris Commune, which I wasn't expecting from a famous leftist. I also think the book is much too nationalistic. Certainly it exposes the failures of the French Army and reasons people would revolt against them, but mostly it seems he feels their failure was not fighting Germans well enough. Anyone with a broader internationalist view, like some Communards would have had, is totally lacking from the book. The few communist characters are essentially laz...more
Jan-Maat
Underfed soldiers are led apparently haphazardly about Northern France. At one point on their continual marching they see Napoleon III on horseback, the make-up not able to hide that he is dieing of cancer. Eventually the Germans put them all out of their misery.

As this is part of Zola's great cycle several of the main characters are related to characters in other books and the family resemblances and inherited characteristics are significant. However it's not essential to have read any other wo...more
Richard Donne
Another great Zola book: his account of a ridiculous and pointless war is emotive and brilliantly written: the accurate contemporary historical account of the ill-conceived tactics and terrible conditions is put into the context of the brotherhood of a working-class ex-farmer working as a corporal and a bourgeois soldier. The accounts of the riderless horses are affecting and moving, and the treatment of the soldiers is desperately sad.
The book ends on some hope and positive note, with the promi...more
Anatole David
Too soon. Compelling experience.
Linda
It is a difficult book to read for two reasons. One, the specifics of French and Parisian geography, which can still be followed on modern French maps. And two, the sheer detail of the brutality of war. Zola does not spare you from any detail and I found it necessary to put the book down at places just because of the gruesome narrative. I am glad that I have read this book, disturbing as it is, it has enlightened me on a chapter of French history I knew very little about.
Frostling
Detailled account of the Franco-Prussian war that took place in 1870-71. The novel follows friends and soldiers in Sedan and then Paris.

Zola used his text to give his unequivocal opinion on the events that brought the Second Empire to its knees. He even went as far as giving words to Napoleon III that were never said by him, which rather diminishes the historical value of this novel. However it remains a great read for anyone who is interested in this pre WW1 conflict.
Cynthia
I've no idea why Zola's account of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 isn't better known as a classic war novel, but it should be. This isn't a look backward to war tales of glory and nobility and the first Napoleonic era, but rather the collapse of those illusions in the paralysis and decay of the Second Empire. In Zola's very acute vision it's not far to the mire and slaughter of the First World War and the setting of the stage for WWII. Very powerful stuff.
Lee
Cannot believe I read the whole thing. Reminds me of Germinal, which is a similarly morose meditation on how horrible the French have been to themselves historically. Interesting battle scene at Sedan, site of a spectacular French loss to the nascent German Empire in the Franco Prussian War. Mostly just Zola style depressing realism flirting constantly w/ boredom.
Ladygwen
Wow. What a deep and detailed picture of war Zola painted. And how he carefully wove in people and personalities (famous and not) to make it alive and yet historical. He very clearly helped my understanding of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune of 1871.
Phyllis Rivers
Historically, it is a good book with characters who are interesting and believable. However, I found the description of blood, gore, and death on the battlefields was not easy to read. It was very graphic and very real.
Esteban Gordon
A fascinating look at the Franco-Prussian War through the eyes, mostly, of Jean Macquart. My only irritation was Zola's seeming to make the Communards the villains of the fall of Paris.
Kevin Donohue
High quality writing with the ability to capture the essence of the time.
Marisa Pedro
Very intense book about the different stages of a battle in a war.
Lucy
Brilliant but horrible.
Erik
Zola is always a treat.
Nicola Turner
Those silly French people.
Sarah Graham
Sarah Graham marked it as to-read
Jul 25, 2014
Fauvette
Fauvette is currently reading it
Jul 24, 2014
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Émile François Zola was an influential French novelist, the most important example of the literary school of naturalism, and a major figure in the political liberalization of France.

More than half of Zola's novels were part of a set of 20 books collectively known as Les Rougon-Macquart. Unlike Balzac who in the midst of his literary career resynthesized his work into La Comédie Humaine, Zola from...more
More about Émile Zola...
Germinal (Les Rougon-Macquart, #13) Nana (Les Rougon-Macquart, #9) Thérèse Raquin L'Assommoir (The Dram Shop) (Les Rougon-Macquart, #7) La Bête humaine (Les Rougon-Macquart, #17)

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