Anyone who loves Hugo, France, and the French language will revel in this delightful book that explains all the intimacies...



A renowned French translator explores the life and legacy of Les Misérables.

The best translators must find just the right meaning, and Bellos (French and Comparative Literature/Princeton Univ.; Is that a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, 2011, etc.) certainly understands that; he is also a crisp stylist capable of seizing the readers’ attention and holding it effortlessly. The story of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece is much more than an account of creativity. His work began as Les Misères, indicating the poor, but the story goes far beyond just those in financial poverty, encompassing the poor in spirit, the wicked, those in distress, and the mauvais pauvre, aka the “bad poor,” who were full of resentment and contempt. The novel is an indictment of three of the biggest problems of the 19th century: limited civil rights, the debasement of women, and a lack of education for children. The story itself and especially its characters grew and developed as names and dates changed, but the character of Marius always reflected Hugo’s life. Bellos opens our eyes to many fascinating elements of the book and its milieu: the depth and complexity of all aspects of French life; the differences between the rich and poor, even down to different terms for money; and Jean Valjean’s embodiment of “the potential that the poorest and most wretched have to become worthy citizens…[that] moral progress is possible for all, in every social sphere.” Particularly astute is the author’s observation that Les Misérables “is not a reassuring tale of the triumph of good over evil, but a demonstration of how hard it is to be good.” With the arrival of Louis Napoleon’s Second Empire, Hugo was banished, first to Brussels and eventually, in 1855, to Guernsey in the Channel Islands. It was there that he finished the 1,500-page masterpiece we know today.

Anyone who loves Hugo, France, and the French language will revel in this delightful book that explains all the intimacies of 19th-century French life.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-22323-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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