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Penguin Island Paperback – December 18, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Anatole France (pseudonym of Jacques Anatol Thibault, 1844- 1924) was the most prominent French man of letters of his time. France's style was precise, elegant, gentle, ironic, and humorous. He was elected to the French Academy, and in 1921 was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Some of his other works include The Aspirations of Jean Servien, The Revolt of the Angels, and Penguin Island.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 188 pages
  • Publisher: Echo Library (December 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1406864161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1406864168
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,733,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I first read this book at the age of 12. I remember receiving it for Christmas--an irony in itself. I recollect my feelings of incredulity as I read the chapters--how could such blasphemy go unpunished?! And then, slowly, my disbelief turned into pure joy at the nose-thumbing this author gave all institutions. The Church, the State, Socialism--you name it, he mocked it. I recommend this book for all those who continue to believe in Ideals.
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Format: Hardcover
Anatole France spares no one in this satire about the the birth life and death of the Penguin empire. Starting from the baptism of the Penguins by St. Mael (and the associated debates in Heaven about the devine status of penguins) through the founding and subsequent fall of the empire, this story pokes fun at the Church, military, courts and every political movement known to man. The trial of poor Pyrot had me in stitches. If you like satire, READ THIS BOOK.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A pious monk discovers a previously unknown island. He is half deaf and more than half blind with age. Even so, he can see that the diminutive people here are gentle, serious, and not yet Christian. He performs a mass baptism, not realizing that he has created Christian penguins.

So begins France's straight-faced satire of the church, the state, and anything else he can think of. First, the innocents must clothe their nakedness. This creates modesty for them, but also creates immodesty, lust-inducing arts of skirt and bodice, and avarice for finer clothes and baubles. Next, they develop property law, proven by disputes over farmland. They create a noble class, when one demonstrates his nobility by killing another penguin and taking his land. They create a royalty, by means of fraud and extortion. They even create their first saint, the miraculous virgin Ste. Orberosia. She seemed best known for her miraculous virginity, which she proclaimed until her dying day (and we don't argue with saints). In fact, she was able to proclaim her virginity even after dozens or hundreds of encounters that would have destroyed it in less holy a woman - miraculous indeed. Perhaps the penguins weren't born subject to Original Sin, but they're mighty quick with the imitation.

The History of Penguinia moves forward, through ages of avarice, adultery, elaboarate scams, false accusations, and all the usual goings-on of the political world. The events are painfully funny, right down to the cynical, cyclical view of modern times, locked into an historical rhythm. The views are painful only because they're so very true.

I imagine they would have been even more true for me if I knew more about the political current events of France and Europe circa 1900, when this book was being written.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is quite fun to read, I found. But it is very uneven. Briefly, it mocks every institution known to man, including the church, especially the church, so much so that this book is still on the Vatican's Index of verboten writings. Thus, any Roman Catholic reader risks excommunication in reading it. Just warning you!

The conceit is that a group of penguins are inadvertently baptised by a half-blind saint. There follows a deliciously Jesuitical debate in Heaven over whether they now deserve souls. It turns out that they do. But please to ask a member of the aforesaid order on exactly how the logic of all this parses. It's altogether too abstruse for me!

There are other very delicious parts. But, the writing becomes a bit sloppy in points. France frequently forgets his conceit of the nation of Penguinia and calls it what it is: France. Also, too much of the book is devoted to The Dreyfus Affair (herein called Pyrot).

But the book is short enough that one shouldn't allow the unevenness to stand in the way of licking one's lips over jeux d'esprit such as the following declaration by Doctor Obnubile:

"The wise men will collect enough dynamite to blow up this planet. When its fragments fly through space an imperceptible amelioration will be accomplished in the universe and a satisfaction will be given to the universal conscience. Moreover, this universal conscience does not exist."

Have a blast!
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Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant satire of just about every major European institution: the French government, the church, all social classes, royalists, republicans, and socialists. The plot has been very ably summarized by earlier reviews. I suspect that a modern non-French reader is handicapped by not knowing immediately exactly which individuals are being satirized in the novel, but a French person, especially one reading the book at the time it was written, would be immediately aware. The one satire that just about everyone will recognize is the reference to the Dreyfus affair. Dreyfus is called Pyrot in the book, and he is a Jew as was Dreyfus. Instead of being accused of treason, he is accused of stealing 20,000 bales of hay. In spite of clear evidence of his innocence, he is convicted and his conviction is upheld on appeal. Thus one of history's foremost miscarriages of justice is savagely skewered by Anatole France.

The book is at times difficult to read, and it is often hard to follow because of the plethora of characters. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous work of imagination and is unlike anything I have read before.
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