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The Belly of Paris (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – September 28, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The translation by Brian Nelson for the Oxford World's Classics edition is excellent, and I really like the cover image which is a detail from The Square in Front of Les Halles by Victor-Gabriel Gilbert. ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, Lisa Hill

About the Author

Brian Nelson has also translated Zola's The Ladies' Paradise, Pot Luck, and The Kill for OWC.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199555842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199555840
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.6 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Belly of Paris (French 1873; tr. Brian Nelson 2007) is one of the earlier works in Zola's 20-volume Rougon-Macquart series. It takes place in 1858 in the great Parisian food market of Les Halles. While the plot is somewhat anemic, the real strength is in the descriptions of Les Halles, its vendors and mainly the food itself. Vast quantities of food. Zola reaches levels of such lush detail to make one both ravenous, and nauseous with sights and smells before the age of refrigeration and knowledge of bacteria. On another level the novel is a satire of the greedy Bourgeois, or middle-class, which are depicted as the comfortable "fat people", in contrast to the revolutionary inclined and dangerous "thin people". Beneath the proper and upright middle class is a greedy animal driven by materialism, ready to stomp out threats to its creature comforts. Zola's criticism of the Bourgeois has both the particular historical interest of 19th century France, and universal timelessness. It's curious to see a novel from the 1870s focusing on middle class obesity and excessive materialism, a problem more relevant to our era, Zola was prescient about where the future was headed. It's even more curious that this novel was only recently translated in 2007, prior to that the most recent translation was from the 1950s and had long been out of print. Although the story itself is somewhat simple, the lush descriptions are fascinating and beautiful, sublime even, no other book in the series is so heavy on description, and his satire of the evils of greed and materialism among the middle class are as relevant and subversive as ever.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderfully evocative of the underpinnings of Paris - the language is marvelous - you can taste the food and experience it all.
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By M. Hannon on November 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
I picked this up after seeing it included on a 'great books about food' list. The descriptions of food are both divine and disgusting. The plot - revolution against the uppper class and the blind support of the upper class by those who struggle is timeless. I wonder if a screen play has ever been attempted. This one would translate beautifully to the screen!
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Emile Zola’s “The Belly of Paris” is the third novel of his epic cycle, Les Rougon-Macquart. I thought long about how best to sum up the novel, but concluded Brian Nelson’s excellent introduction could not be surpassed. He wrote:

"…The Belly of Paris (has) a high degree of ideological ambiguity. There is no equivocation, however, in Zola’s satirical critique of the bourgeoisie and the ‘high’ capitalism of the Second Empire. The last words of the novel – Claude’s exclamation ‘Respectable people…What bastards!’ – deplore the triumph of the ‘Fat’. Beneath the outward ‘respectability’ of the bourgeoisie there is a venality and brutality that Zola portrays as monstrous. Marjolin, the young woman in the pink bonnet, and above all, Florent are sacrificed on the altar of bourgeois greed.”

“The Belly of Paris” holds many lessons applicable to our times. Read it and you may see the same story transferred to New York or Houston in 2013 – as Professor Nelson noted “the bourgeois triumph repeatedly over the workers; political idealism goes nowhere.” Just replace “bourgeois” with “job creators” and “workers” with “takers” and the statement is relevant today.
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Zola's brilliant metaphor on Paris and France. the narrative is stunning. One must follow up tis wonderful read with a walk through what was once Les Halles to commune with all the characters, spectacles and ghosts in this novel.
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I love historical fiction books that transport you to another age and are an education at the same time. I would recommend this book to all who enjoy history and want a more personal insight of the times.
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After the first chapter which seemed to move slowly, I am enjoying this book. Rich in descriptive language which puts one into the French milieu of the time. Recommend. Will look at other Zola books to read.
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Florent is a Parisian schoolteacher who has been sent to Devil's Island for having played a very minor and almost accidental role in the uprisings of 1848. He has managed to escape and made his way, penniless and half starved, back to Paris. He finds himself, ironically, in the middle of Les Halles, the city's massive central food market area. There he finds his much younger brother, Quenu, who runs a charcuterie--a prepared meats market--along with his wife Lisa. Quenu and Lisa gladly allow Florent to use their house as a place of hiding and recovery. After he recuperates, they introduce him to the neighborhood as Quenu's cousin. Florent refuses, however, to try to blend in and rebuild his life. Instead he begins in earnest to plot the overthrow of the government which imprisoned him.

The central character of the novel isn't Florent, however, but the Les Halles market itself. "Like some huge central organ pumping blood into every vein of the city," the market feeds a population of two million with a massive daily flow of goods coming from all directions and distances. Vegetable-laden carts queue up on the roads leading into Paris in the pre-dawn darkness. Trains bring in cattle, cheeses and fruits; barges arrive with fresh fish. Poultry and rabbits are raised in dim cellars under the markets themselves. At the street level, stall after stall displays its goods in enticing arrays. Entire streets are devoted to different classes of products: fruits, dairy, meats, fish, etc.

Zola devotes pages to overwhelming the reader with the sounds, smells, images and feel of Les Halles. Individually the items are beautiful and often erotic. Apricots have the color of "the sunset glow on the necks of dark-haired girls just where the little hairs begin to curl.
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