Sunday 27 November 2022

Book Review: The War of the Poor by Eric Vuillard, Translated by Mark Polozzotti

The War of the Poor The War of the Poor by √Čric Vuillard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a short book and not one I would have picked up but I wanted for various reasons to try and read a piece of creative non fiction fiction which has always been a genre that flummoxed me.
This was billed as an account of an event I knew nothing about namely the German Peasants’ War of 1524–25 and its instigator Thomas Muntzer a radical theologian of the time. It describes conflict between peasants and gentry which I thought might politically be interesting as even today that differential divide between the haves and the have nots continues. As I started to read it felt like a exercise in name dropping - the Archbishop of Magdeburg, various Munzers, Monczer, Miinzers Johann Sylvanus Erganus, , Nikolaus Stroch, Mark Stubner, Thomas Drechsel etc - all names which meant and mean nothing to me . Undaunted I continued to read about how Thomas Muntzer read the Bible, how he transformed into a radical preacher and provocateur. Central hear is the Gutenburg printing of the Bible, its translation from Latin and the relationship between Church, State and Power which as the ordinary people were more and more able to hear, speak and read it in their own languages caused a growing political awareness of their social circumstances and those of the establishment. It brings in John Wycliffe , John Ball , 1380 poll tax in England , Wat Tyler and the violent conflicts that arose at that time between the English Throne and its citizenry . Then it returns to what is happening in Bohemia with Jan Hus Czech translations, sermons and their resulting riots. The writing spans centuries, back and forth, and spans countries and it does it in 66 pages! To that extent it is classic short piece writing, every word must count, nothing is extraneous. But, and for my this is big but, it is like reading a potted history, like a concise Shakespeare, so much is left out, we have just the bare bones. This is not therefore a book which will appeal to readers of historical non fiction, may not appeal to readers of historical fiction as it doesn't give any depth to the characters of their motivations. This book was translated by American Mark Polizzotti and was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize which is for novels or short story collection but I feel it doesn't quite fit that bill. Not a book for me.

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