Considered by André Gide to be one of the ten greatest novels in the French language, Émile Zola’s Germinal is a brutal depiction of the poverty and wretchedness of a mining community in northern France, translated with an introduction by Roger Pearson in Penguin Classics.
Étienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Compelled to take a back-breakin job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all. The thirteenth novel in Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart sequence, Germinal expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope.