Review Blog

Jul 20 2015

Liberty's fire by Lydia Syson

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Hot Key Books, 2015. ISBN 9781471403675
(Age: Middle to upper secondary) Highly recommended. A grim tale indeed! Set in Paris in 1871 during the siege when Paris was captured by Prussian forces, the novel immediately draws the reader to the tragedy of the poor Parisians. This defeat led to the rise of the Paris Commune. Zephyrine's grandmother has just died, and as she is destitute, sets out to get enough money for the funeral. She almost succumbs to becoming a prostitute when Anatole, a musician, saves her. Her passionate belief in the Commune's strength to free Paris leads to Anatole supporting and loving her and she him. Jules a photographer, with whom Anatole shares a flat, and Marie, a singer with the Opera, find Zephyrine's strong belief in the Commune difficult to understand. They both have a love for Anatote but he is obsessed with Zephryrine. The violence and utter despair of the ordinary Parisians is heart-breakingly described, but the voices of Zephyrine, Anatole and Marie are realistic and believable and so personal, that the ultimate horror of the suppression of the socialist group is softened by their accounts. The descriptions of the barricades are sympathetically described.
This history is told with fire and love and encourages the reader to find out more. Interestingly, Zephyrine was exiled to New Caledonia. Later, the ship berthed in Sydney, when many were granted amnesty.
Written with passion, strength and inspiration, the reader is drawn into the brutish conditions of the ordinary Parisian. Historical fiction at its best, it's fascinatingly and carefully crafted making it well worth reading and discussing. A wonderful novel to supplement a history unit of France around that time.
Well recommended for middle to Upper Secondary students.
Sue Nosworthy

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