To Live Out Loud– A Novel About Émile Zola’s Life and Death
When I reviewed A Different Kind of Angel by Paulette Mahurin last month here , I said that I would be getting to Mahurin’s 19th century homophobia novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, soon. Yet I had Mahurin’s Zola novel, To Live Out Loud, on my Kindle. Yes, I actually purchased it. Sometimes I do review books I bought. 😄
A more cogent reason to prioritize To Live Out Loud is because it now seems so urgently necessary to remind people about what happened in late 19th century France. Right wing military officials inflamed an antisemitic hysteria by court-martialing loyal Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 and condemning him for treason based on falsified evidence. For American Jews, this is a travesty of justice that echoes through history due to recent events.
In 2017 white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Then in 2018, the worst antisemitic atrocity in American history occurred when a right wing extremist killed 11 praying Jews on the Sabbath at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue.
Dreyfus had a defender in the French press. He was Émile Zola who wrote a searing editorial commentary called “J’Accuse!” which became famous. I knew about “J’Accuse!”, but it was To Live Out Loud that made me aware that Zola was subjected to violent attacks afterward. Today journalists who expose injustices are no more safe than Zola had been. There is a hostile atmosphere that encourages persecution of journalists. So I very much appreciate that Paulette Mahurin focuses on journalists who were social activists such as
Émile Zola in this book, and Nellie Bly in her most recent novel, A Different Kind of Angel.
To Live Out Loud also made me aware of a French Kristellnacht in the French colony of Algeria that was an incident which happened during the same period as the Dreyfus case. According to a Wikipedia article on The History of Jews in Algeria, in 1898 two Jews were killed and 156 Jewish shops in Algiers were attacked as a result of antisemitic hysteria among the French colonists.
My only criticism of this book is that I thought it would have been more intense if it had been from Zola’s perspective. I don’t really see the need for a fictionalized friend of Zola who barely exists as a character. After Zola’s death, there could have been an epilogue from the perspective of Alfred Dreyfus perhaps.
Otherwise To Live Out Loud was a meticulously researched novel that speaks to our times. Zola’s courage and integrity are memorialized through this book.
I’d like to close with a quote from Anatole France’s eulogy at Zola’s funeral:
“Zola deserves well of his country for not having lost faith in its ability to rule by law.”