This is an extremely compelling fictionalization of the story of convicted French spy/traitor, Alfred Dreyfus (Jan. 1895), and the part in his exoneration played by French author/journalist, Émile Zola. Dreyfus, a French Jew, had climbed up in the military at a time when anti-semitic feelings were running high. Despite the fact that France had passed a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789 which guaranteed freedom of religion, the Catholic church, some newspapers, and definitely, the military establishment, saw the Jews as a threat to French security and the Catholic religion. When a document was uncovered revealing that someone highly placed was passing information to the German embassy, army intelligence leaped to the assumption that Dreyfus was guilty because he was a Jew. Émile Zola was present when
Dreyfus was paraded out into the courtyard of the École Militaire on the Champ de Mars . . . ceremoniously degraded in public by having rank insignia, buttons, and braid cut from his uniform, and his dress sword broken. The crowd cheered as he was made to march around the grounds in his tattered uniform with his head bowed.
Zola questioned why someone who had risen so high in the army would risk it all by turning traitor. To find out the truth, Zola risks everything: his career, his livelihood, his reputation, and his freedom. While he followed leads, discovering that documents that could have cleared Dreyfus had been kept from his defence attorney, layer upon layer of cover-up injustices became heaped one on top of the other. It became a deep conspiracy, the revealing of which shook the French justice system to its core.
Told through the eyes of a fictional friend of Zola’s, Charles Mandonette, an engineer who had worked with Zola Sr., and had known Émile since he was a child, the facts of the case are woven together in a riveting fashion. This story is extremely well-researched and many of the statements and documents are quoted verbatim from historical accounts: the tender line from a letter written from Dreyfus from his prison on Devil’s Island in French Guiana to his wife, Lucie, her letter to the court during Émile’s libel trial, letters and articles written by Zola in the Paris newspaper. Transcripts from the libel trials are included in excerpt to convey the court’s total disregard for uncovering the truth of the matter, and the vicious anti-semitic behaviours typical of the time.
Paulette would ask you to purchase this book because all the proceeds go to rescuing dogs from kill-shelters, which is a great cause, but you should buy this novel because it is an amazing story, well-told, which will keep you reading to the end in one sitting. It is that moving. The characters come to life. Each chapter begins with an appropriate quote from Zola. You could go to Wikipedia and find out how the story comes out but you would miss out on what made Zola a great writer and humanitarian. If this book doesn’t make you want to read more about and by him, nothing will. Great historical fiction. * * * * *