Booker International Longlist – The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard
Booker International Longlist Book 5 rated by panellists Tracy & Rachel.
The War of the Poor
Translated by Mark Polizzotti from French
Published by Pan Macmillan, Picador
Details from the official Booker Site: The history of inequality is a long and terrible one. And it’s not over yet. Short, sharp and devastating, The War of the Poor tells the story of a brutal episode from history, not as well-known as tales of other popular uprisings, but one that deserves to be told. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century takes on the powerful and the privileged. But quickly it becomes more about the bourgeoisie. Peasants, the poor living in towns, who are still being promised that equality will be granted to them in heaven, begin to ask themselves: and why not equality now, here on earth? There follows a furious struggle. Out of this chaos steps Thomas Müntzer, a complex and controversial figure. Sifting through history, Éric Vuillard extracts the story of one man whose terrible and novelesque life casts light on the times in which he lived – a moment when Europe was in flux. Inspired by the recent gilets jaunes protests in France: a populist, grassroots protest movement – led by workers – for economic justice. While The War of the Poor is about 16th-century Europe, this short polemic has a lot to say about inequality now.
About the Author
Éric Vuillard is a writer and filmmaker born in Lyon in 1968 who has written nine award-winning books, including Conquistadors (winner of the 2010 Prix Ignatius J. Reilly), and La bataille d’Occident and Congo (both of which received the 2012 Prix Franz-Hessel and the 2013 Prix Valery-Larbaud). He won the 2017 Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, for L’ordre du jour.
Tracy’s Thoughts: It seems that this year the International Booker judges are preferring realistic works. This short book is certainly in that vein.
The War of the Poor focuses on historic peasant uprisings- mostly on the German Peasants’ War, when the peasants were led by the protestant minister Thomas Muntzer into violence. The demands of the poor were reasonable, and sound familiar- better pay, compensation for those injured on the job, no child labor, etc. It’s not a spoiler alert to say that they lost- the wealthy squelched the rebellion and about 100000 died.
Since this reads more like an essay, it’s hard to evaluate it as fiction, though I guess the author did put words in the heads of some of the characters, and extrapolated information to his own opinions. (which happens with nonfiction, too, so…) I did appreciate the history, since my own education in this topic is lacking, but it’s hard to call this fiction, and it’s so short, I’m surprised it qualified for the prize.
Writing quality: 3.5/5
Character development: 2/5
Plot development: 3/5
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Rachel’s Thoughts: This highlighted that my knowledge of European history is shocking and it’s about time I learnt something about peasant revolution. So that’s good.
It’s about Thomas Müntzer and the German Peasant War of 1524-5. I admire that a tale about making God accessible to the people is distilled down to 100ish pages of quite easy read. It seems in keeping, and I would never get round to a 500 page biog of Müntzer.
But. It feels like an extended creative essay, I have no feel for Müntzer as a character, and references to Devon bumpkins just feel a little lazy (to this Devon bumpkin). It has piqued my interest in the subject, and I didn’t dislike it, but that’s it, really – as a reading experience it was just OK.
Writing quality: 3/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: ½
At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20
Have you read this one? What did you think?
Not for me. I don’t particularly enjoy historical novels.