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The Gods Are Athirst (Les Dieux ont Soif) d’Anatole France

December 29, 2012

Anatole France was quite a success and a celebrity in his time, but nowadays he is mainly known for being identified with the writer Proust disguised under the name of Bergotte in the first book of In Search of Lost Time: what a pity! Monsieur France – born François-Anatole Thibault – is a writer deserving to be known for his own works and this book is an exceptional example of his talent.

The Gods Are Athirst is a phrase attributed to Aztec emperor Montezuma, a phrase he used to explain why human sacrifices were necessary, in France’s novel the god’s name is la republique because the time of this story is the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, the time of the guillotine. Though his talent seems to be lacking Evariste Gamelin aspires to be a painter, but he is a feverish and pitiless patriot, the French Revolution is the name of his god, so when one day he becomes a juror on the Revolutionary Tribunal he is willing to use his power to defend la Revolution: henceforth he will sacrifice family, love and friends. Historical novels tend to be lengthy and chaotic, Les Dieux ont Soif is wide-ranging but brief and focused at the same time, the characters are vivid and every theme of the era – the role of the nobles, of the church, of the conflicting parties – is represented by a significant voice in the course of the novel. “A revolution is not a dinner party” – another revolutionary hero said, Mao Zedong – and this book proves that some of us – like Gamelin – are more fit than others to live its harsh times though the reader’s admiration here will probably go to the likes of Maurice Brotteaux and the characters who manage to keep intact their humanity even in such difficult times.

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