"Rabble!" book discussion about the Paris Commune with guest Geoffrey Fox - Podcast, 20 July 2021 (1 hour 13 minutes)
Fact and fancy in historical fiction
Talking Location Withâ€” author Geoffrey Fox: PARIS COMMUNE (Trip Fiction)
An exhaustively researched account of the events of the 1870 Paris Commune phenomenon, which, thugh it failed, influenced many of the great political and philosophical thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, in a fictionalized form. As the story unfolds, we grow to sympathize with the characters, who are not only portrayed as individuals, but also as proponents of various threads of the movement. On finishing the book, one misses their company! Historical fiction at its best!
I had a vague knowledge of these events, and probably thought they'd been important, but I would not have approached a history textbook before reading this fascinating story. Who would imagine that what happened back then would so impact the present? I found the story easy to track and came away really informed on top of it all.
This is a splendid recreation of a critical period in French history, done with a depth of knowledge and splendid personal portraits. Should be required reading in French history courses and literature.
César Chelala, winner of Overseas Press Club of America award.
by César Chelala
A beautifully constructed historical novel that evokes the atmosphere of the time perfectly. Can be a quite difficult read at times but is ultimately worthwhile with interesting characters who one can both sympathise and dislike. Wonderful descriptions of Paris and the conditions that forced the rebellious actions with the attitudes of the ‘higher classes’ shown for what they were worth.
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/237021/review/246821
by NetGalley review
I really enjoyed the writing style while also being in awe of the author’s careful efforts to ensure the reader was given a clear picture of the era in some detail. It’s an original approach - very strong character-based story telling accompanying what is almost a fictionalised social history.
Original review: https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/237021/review/700299
by NetGalley review
This delightful historical novel (a page turner to the end) portrays the outbreak of the revolutionary Paris Commune in 1871 and working class Paris of the mid-nineteenth century through the experience of a young man from the provinces newly arrived in the great city, a bookbinder by trade, whose hopes for his own life are bound up in the idealistic aspirations of “the International.” Wandering the city’s industrial streets and back alleyways, the newcomer falls in with a band of radical young friends from various of the manufacturing trades of that era, bronze workers, glove makers, laundresses, tinsmiths, woodworkers, and bookbinders, falls in love with a young woman whose parents had fought for the Commune of 1848, and as events move fast joins the Commune’s National Guard first defending Paris against invading Prussians, then holding off anti-revolutionary national French forces, as the great wave of enthusiasm carries all before it. Reading “Rabble!” (as the Commune is viewed by its establishment enemies) I almost began to feel a Parisian myself, immersed in the lives of all elements of society of that day, from the street artists and musicians, rag pickers, and homeless military veterans living under the great bridges, to the milkmaids and wine vendors from beyond the walls of the city, the craftsmen in a bookbinding shop, the journalists of all stripes (“ink-shitters” in the vernacular) with their noses to which way the winds are blowing, the politicians and revolutionary leaders wrangling over theory and policy as the ground is being blown out from under them, and a police chief whose conservative professional aims to maintain the status quo mingle with even more pressing concerns about the trajectory of his own career. The reader gets a glimpse into the volatile and vital French culture, the color and excitement of the quest for “equality and fraternity” in Paris in 1871. Even as the barricades are being penetrated by the enemy, a young actress obliviously heads for an audition for her dream role in a play and is gunned down by the invaders suspecting her of being a pétroleuse, an arsonist. As the Commune’s defenses are about to be broken by military forces from Versailles, the Paris cafes are still full of high conversation and intrigue, and thousands attend a grand musical concert certain the spirit of the Commune can never be defeated.
by Peter de Lissovoy
How wonderful it is to be transported to Paris in 1871. Fox’s attention to detail and conversational storytelling prowess is of the highest caliber. The Paris Commune marked a historical point where working-class rabble-rousers created a short-lived experiment that provided a roadmap to Russia 1917 and other subsequent struggles against cruel imperialism. Fox deserves a big fan club.
by Pat Cummings
Rabble! brings to life the revolutionary commune that existed for two months in Paris in 1871 and the people and ideas that drove it. It is an exposition of the city, its monumental buildings, it' cold stones, its bistros, and riversides. It is a thorough exposition of the ideologies that were in the air and moved people to attempt a society where human beings live better: gender equality, free education, equal pay for equal work, and similar social goals. The future where those ideas survived and sometimes triumphed animates their presentation. The book also explores the conservative forces that endured and in the short run horribly crushed them. Above all it brings this place and these ideals to life in characters who come to understand and then urgently embrace them, how they act on them, and in some cases die for them. It follows a bookbinder who is politically aware and personally naïve at 17 when he comes to Paris. Book binding is mostly done by machines now, but in those days in France they were a skilled class of workers who tended to be idealistic and politically active. He embraces the commune, not to mention a girlfriend, changes of jobs, fighting on the barricades. The book, like the commune is rich in characters. Others fully realized include the girl friend, and a detective working on the conservative side. Caringly drawn secondary characters include the detective’s chanteuse mistress, the girlfriend’s mother who is a veteran working class revolutionary, friends he finds in a boarding house, new-minted schoolteachers, and others. Some appear in comics scenes of street entertainment. The plot in a narrow sense is the developing life of the bookbinder, but in a larger sense is the tragic arc of the commune. The prose is clear and thoughtful.
by Dirk van Nouhuys
Born in Chicago, Geoffrey Fox graduated from Harvard in 1963 and worked as a community organizer in Caracas and in Latino barrios of Chicago before earning a PhD in sociology. His books on Latin American society and culture have been published by HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and the University of Arizona Press, which published Hispanic Nation, his best-selling book on the emerging power of Latinos in the U.S. His articles, op-eds and book reviews have appeared in The Nation, The New York Times, the Village Voice and other publications.
Geoffrey Fox's short story collection Welcome to My Contri, first published in 1988, was described by The New York Times Book Review as a "short and impressive work" in which "Mr. Fox [...] has created a memorable set of players who, while not natural antagonists (they often share the same dreams and goals), are still somehow bent on confrontation. Watching their sometimes vicious, often darkly humorous interactions leaves us thoroughly wrung out and aware that we are in the presence of a formidable new writer". In 2010, Welcome to My Contri was reissued as an ebook with a new introduction and two new stories.
His novel, A Gift for the Sultan (2010), about the conflicts, collaborations and conspiracies between Ottoman Turks and Byzantines in the years before the Ottoman seizure of Constantinople, has been translated into Turkish by Nokta Publishers in Istanbul.
Since 2008, Fox has been living with his partner, architect Susana Torre, on the edge of the Mediterranean in the village of Carboneras in Andalusia, Spain, where his short stories (in Spanish) under the pen name "Baltasar Lotroyo" ("el otro yo" = alter ego in Spanish) have appeared in anthologies and online publications.