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City of Darkness, City of Light Paperback – August 12, 1997

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City of Darkness, City of Light + The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Bedford Cultural Editions Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (August 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449912752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449912751
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Depicting the experiences of three brave women, Piercy (Gone to Soldiers) explores the human reality of the French Revolution, bringing to life the immense role women played in bringing down the monarchy. Claire Lacombe escapes the grinding poverty of her youth by becoming an actress in a traveling troupe. Beautiful and filled with the determination that can be forged by enduring hardship, she becomes an inspiring symbol as she dares to participate in pivotal events. Manon Philipon, a jeweler's daughter, idolizes Rousseau and the life of the mind. Marrying an austere government bureaucrat, she learns that she has an innate grasp of politics. Pauline Leon, the owner of a chocolate shop, is galvanized when she witnesses the executions of poor people rioting for bread. Their three stories are deftly braided with the lives of three men?the incorruptible Robespierre, the opportunistic Danton and Nicolas Caritat, an academician trying to walk the high wire between old and new. Men may be necessary to drive the plot, but women are its engine. It is women who take to the streets looking for "justice, bread and freedom," and who win concessions on issues like divorce and inheritance rights. Piercy skillfully juxtaposes the political debates, painfully slow reforms and bloody confrontations against the ironies and absurdities of everyday life. Since the novel offers multiple perspectives, events sometimes overlap and readers must pay close attention to the dates listed with chapter headings. This is a minor obstacle, however, in a novel that adds fresh, powerfully grounding perspective to accepted historical fact. QPB featured alternate.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

The best-selling author of epic novels, poetry, and short stories (e.g., The Longings of Women, LJ 1/94) here records the fictional exploits of three influential women who helped pilot the French Revolution.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Y. Smittle on December 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I can't lay my finger on why, but this book was hard to get through. It usually doesn't take me that long to read a book. I keep thinking its because its seperated up into different characters perspectives---or because it is so detailed. As a historian, I am not too familiar with the French Revolution, so I can't tell you how "accurate" it is. I can tell you to, read the authors introduction, in which she states she superimposed our current culture onto the culture of the French people. IE it means she didn't mess around with historical jargon. I didn't mind that at all---especially since she explained that to us in the introduction. Some others find fault with it, I guess. It depends on what you prefer in historical fiction.
Ms. Piercey tells the story of women from several different walks of life, as well as the story from some of the major players in the Revolution. I can tell you that after I finished this book, I went to the bookstore and looked through a general history of the Revolution and was able to identify everyone pictured in it, as well as all the scenarios and events. So---yes, its very detailed. I liked it, it was just hard to get through...
Theres an actress, a chocolatier, Mme. Roland, whom I didn't care for, Nicholas Condorcet, who I did like, Danton and Robespierre. She shared all different walks of life for me, as far as I'm concerned. I appreciate that she took the time and effort to share with us the different aspects of the people, the very real people of the Revolution. She makes them so real.
She is obviously a feminist, too, by her style. But using her feminist background, she was able to explain to us exactly how and why so much of the Revolution depended on THE WOMEN. And NOT the rich, "educated," women! Pretty good; Just expect to take it slow!!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Tony Thomas on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a good read.
This is good history. This is great fiction. This is the honest story of the French revolution, told from the side of masses of working people, peasants, real French people, told from the side of women and men who live as we live. This is a story of people finding searching for truth and love. This is not about disillusion with revolution, disillusion with the great moments when masses of working people take the world in their hands, this is a celebration of it, of love. This is not about the tragedy of the French revolution, but about the glory of it, and the glory of working men and above all working women.
When big fights will rage to turn back the Clinton-Gore-Bush Cheeny billionaire led attacks on the standard of living of working people, their wars against people around the world, the hideous lame, stupid repulsive culture that blares out of the television and the radio monopolies, books like this will be in the hands of the young women, the young men who will lead the changes. Read this book and feel that young power, look into the past and see our future.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
As a long time admirer of Ms Piercy's work, I picked up a copy of "City of Darkness : City of Light" to enjoy on holiday. It seemed to promise all the enjoyment of "Gone For Soldiers" - an epic novel of WWII beautifully told from a number of perspectives. . Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations - or indeed the reviews I've read of it. Maybe the problem was that of the characters: all well-known players in the politics of the time. I knew a lot about them already and this book didn't seem to add much. I think Piercy deserves applause for her recognition of the role of women. However, if you want the really great contemporary novel of the French Revolution, try Hilary Mantel's "A Place of Greater Safety".
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ima Reader on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
In *City of Darkness, City of Light,* Marge Piercy follows six, count `em, *six* characters through the French Revolution. This turbulent period molds their characters, as each of them plays important roles in, if not the actual revolution, the evolution of France. The end of the book (guessing who will survive the guillotine) is riveting.

As much fun as this book is to read, and as interesting as the history is, there is more importance than mere romp and period to this work. Postmodernism has been touted as obscure and difficult, like *Gravity's Rainbow* or some of the more abstract, narrativeless forms. *City of Darkness, City of Light* is, IMHO, postmodernism as it was meant to be. Piercy reinterprets history from the POV of those who did not have a voice at the time: women. She explores the lives of women during the French Revolution with kindness, emotion, and depth. Her characters range from politically active minor nobility (Manon) to the impoverished (Claire) to the middle class (Pauline), an oftentimes neglected strata of society. There are also male counterparts for each of the archetypal women, including a character that becomes the bloody Robespierre, who begins life as a studious son of a lawyer named simply Max.

In addition to the postmodern aspects of this book, *City* is important because it attempts to discuss what it is to be human, and different types of human, within a larger context, during a historical event. Too often, IMHO, contemporary novels examine one character, doing very little, or nothing. The novel should not be measly navel-gazing. It should be an experience that broadens the reader. I don't mean merely educational or informative. By reading widely, one should understand one's fellow human better, deeper, more intensely. One should feel more.
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