Posts Tagged ‘Eric Vuillard’

‘The War of the Poor’ by Eric Vuillard – “You cannot serve both God and Money.”

 

‘The War of the Poor’ by Eric Vuillard   (2019) – 79 pages               Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti

 

When someone writes a book propping up the kings, queens, and aristocracy of the past, we call that history. However if someone attempts to explain a major peasants’ revolt that occurred in the 16th century, then do we call that fiction? The German Peasants’ War of 1524 and 1525 was Europe’s largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution of 1789.

The German Peasants’ War was a revolt against both the aristocracy and the Catholic Church which through its doctrine and practices bolstered the aristocracy. The religious leader of this revolt was the German preacher and theologian Thomas Müntzer.

Why the God of the poor was so strangely always on the side of the rich, always with the rich. Why his words about giving up everything issued from the mouths of those who had taken everything.”

At first the Protestant reformer Martin Luther supported Müntzer, but when Müntzer’s sermons started to inflame the peasants into revolt Luther turned against him.

The Catholic Church services in the Middle Ages were in Latin which very few people in Europe could understand, and the Bible, untranslated, was also in Latin. In ‘The War of the Poor’ author Vuillard traces reformers like John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English.

And as the icing on the cake, his most terrifying idea of all, he (Wycliffe) preached the equality of all human beings.”

Martin Luther translated the Bible into German.

When the sermons and the Bible became things ordinary people could understand, then religion became more personal and thus more susceptible to logic. The poor began to question the King’s and the Church’s authority over their wretched lives.

There are no fictional characters or events in ‘The War of the Poor’. Here is an example of why ‘The War of the Poor’ would be treated as fiction:

Thomas Müntzer must have blazed white-hot during those days. He must have gone off like a firecracker, bellowed his faith and brought to bear misery, rage, despair, and hope.”

This kind of colorful zippy conjecture would never do in the staid non-fiction world.

This book is a scant 79 pages. What there is of it is very good. I wish there were more. I would like to see a fuller depiction of the life of Thomas Müntzer. He seems to be a fascinating pivotal figure in European religious and social history.

 

Grade:    A-

 

 

‘The Order of the Day’ by Eric Vuillard – The Raving Lunatic Takes Over Germany and Austria

 

‘The Order of the Day’ by Eric Vuillard (2017) – 132 pages Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti

“Great catastrophes often creep up on us in tiny steps.”

Two significant events in Germany’s lead-up to World War II are discussed in the 2017 Prix Goncourt winning novel ‘The Order of the Day’ which is probably as close to non-fiction as a work of fiction can ever be. The events in the novel really happened, and the characters were all real people. Nothing is made up. In fact the novel strives to be entirely historically accurate. The only reason ‘The Order of the Day’ could be classified as fiction is that the author Eric Vuillard recreates private conversations that we know took place but do not know exactly what was discussed.

The first event is a meeting of twenty-four major German business owners on February 20, 1933 where they all agreed to lend their support to Adolf Hitler. These were the Krupps, the von Siemens, the Opels, and others.

And the twenty-four gentlemen present at the palace of the President of the Reichstag that February 20 are none other than their proxies, the clergy of major industry; they are the high priests of Ptah. And there they stand, affectless, like twenty-four calculating machines at the gates of Hell.”

Without the support of these major business leaders, the Hitler nightmare would never have happened. Later Vuillard mentions that some of these same companies were not averse to using slave labor: “BMW hired in Dachau … IG Farben … operated a large factory inside the camp at Auschwitz.”

Just as we are settling in for an account of this horrific meeting, Vuillard switches his focus to another significant event leading up to World War II, Germany’s annexation of Austria which is now known as the Anschluss on March 12, 1938.

First there is a calling into account of English diplomat Lord Halifax who along with Neville Chamberlain were architects of England’s appeasement policy toward Hitler and Germany.

The English aristocrat, the diplomat standing proudly behind his little line of forebears, deaf as trombones, dumb as buzzards, and blind as donkeys, leaves me cold.”

Lord Halifax caving to the Nazis reminds me of the attempts by politicians and diplomats to appease and placate Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Then we proceed to the futile attempts by the leaders of Austria to keep its national integrity despite the German onslaught.

On the day of the takeover of Austria, Hitler ordered a tank invasion – a Blitzkrieg – of Austria. However some of the heavy artillery vehicles stalled in the middle of the road. An entire line of German tanks sat motionless.

What was supposed to be Hitler’s triumphant return in a Blitzkrieg to his hometown and the towns where he spent his childhood turned into a total deadlock standstill with no vehicles moving. It was bitterly cold. Hitler was in his Mercedes behind the stalled vehicles.

Hitler was fit to be tied: what was supposed to be his day of glory, a swift spellbinding passage, had morphed into a traffic jam. Instead of speed, there was congestion; instead of vitality, asphyxiation; instead of a surge, a bottleneck.”

However, Austria was then under the control of a raving lunatic, and the Austrian people along the way cheered.

‘The Order of the Day’ is very fine as an indignant look back at crucial events in modern history, but I am still not sure it qualifies as fiction.

 

Grade : A-

 

 

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