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Liberty’s Fire is historically original and an accurate book specifying the events from periods of the Franco-German War, also known as the Franco-Prussian war, as the conflict was between France and a coalition of the Prussian Lead States of Northern Germany. Out of this war arose the Paris Revolution which took place in 1871 and is the focus of this novel.
The events of the book are written through the eyes of four friends who each watch developments of this civil war play out while having personal political experiences through many challenging circumstances. I found the book is slow paced until a point in the later chapters when it begins to detail the relationships shared between the main characters. The plot revolves around the relationships between the four fundamental characters, and how their individual struggles and political beliefs compel them to cooperate. The main four characters are struggling to support themselves, while developing their talents. Jules is an American Photographer who is of a higher class and is suspicious of the Commune. He also appears skeptical about Zephyrine’s radical approach and becomes somewhat bothered, along with Marie, by Zephyrine and Anatole’s new found relationship. Zephyrine is a young girl, 16 to be exact, and finding herself alone after her grandmothers passing, she is taken in by Marie while she grieves. Desperate to make in on her own she turns to the streets where she is quickly drawn by her friend Rose, who equals her zeal, to the revolution and by the ideals of a radical new government, and she finds herself captivated by its “promises of freedom, hope, equality and rights for women”. It’s during this time she meets Anatole as he intervenes in an altercation Zephyrine has with two men, arguing over her services. It’s not long before these two meet again, as a result of the revolution, and fall in love. Concerned about the relationship, Rose questions Zephyrine about her commitment to the Commune.
“‘But I do know,’ said Zephyrine. ‘Of course I know. I want to help the Commune.’ She liked working with the committee.”
Marie who is a promising opera singer, and performs with Anatole sings with sympathy for the enemy forces that assault the city because of her brother, Emile, and so many other prisoners, being in their ranks. I was surprised that Marie, who even though seemed focused on her own success, would entertain taking a lower class like Zephyrine under her care. Anatole is a youthful violinist, who comes across as an appealing man, in both personality and appearance. He has tremendous joy for life, and he’s the sort of person whose charisma and passion make him a lure for other individuals. He also has a curiosity for strangers, and an urge to help others. At times, Anatole’s actions were a little careless and had a negative impact on others. Nevertheless, the text did feel fitting as it gave a glimpse at the lives of those who had experienced so much in such a short span of time that, for the characters, must have felt like a lifetime.
The Commune has tossed out the typical rules of social interaction, so, when Anatole meets a poor young lady called Zephyrine, he welcomes this opportunity as a chance to become more acquainted with her. Zephyrine is influenced by the belief system of those in the commune, by the possibility of freedom and justice for all, and Anatole is swept along by her passion. Marie is ambitious, and she sees that the Commune may give her sudden opportunities for a promising future. Unfortunately, she is desperate to help and encourage her brother, who has become a prisoner of war; however, she finds that her attempts to do so make her question her decisions. There were some things about the Commune that weren’t explained, so I was slightly confused by the events being described and what it would have been like to actually be there.
In other instances, however, the author does a convincing job of making the events real. Here, she writes of an explosion at a cartridge factory that Jules and Marie watched from their windows:
“…the cloud had a capricious, uncapturable beauty: innumerable silvery ostrich plumes, continually unfurling, whirling, twisting in the air, revolving around themselves and others, endlessly and speedily rolling in and out of one another…And from the sky fell burning timber, molten lead, empty bullet cases and human remains.”
As the characters are defined, we learn Anatole has just landed a contract with the theater, Marie has an understudy’s part in Il Trovatore, and Jules’ photographs start to gain some semi-official status as his work becomes noticed. The political aspects that are added in the book help exaggerate the growth of each character throughout the story. The plot of the book and the characters seemed very realistic and you could tell that the author must have put a great amount of time and research into this work. There were small details in this book that improve the experience of reading it so much that it influenced me to some research more about that time in history and why the French revolution happened. I feel that both fundamental characters, Anatole and Zephyrine, were nicely portrayed. In addition, many events of the book occurred in the streets; this called for a certain description of the surroundings for the reader to understand the urgency of these events. The novel also included lots of cliffhangers which always influenced me to keep reading. Zephyrine’s character is not instantly involved with Anatole; she was simply a desperate girl fighting against the struggles of Paris. The author attempted to describe her character in moments of desperation which brings the reader to a point of empathy for Zephyrine, bonding the character and the reader. This was successful; but following this first strong presentation Zéphyrine does not have much to show when it came to her personality. She often annoying when asking questions, such as to Jules about the camera gear in chapter 20.
I found some of the dialect used by the revolutionists very formal. This doesn’t seem realistic for the characters that mostly lived in poorer areas of Paris. Although, maybe the author was using this to make the book seem realistic for that time period. When all is said and done the book’s pace was a little disappointing at first. The characters meet briefly in the first thirteen chapters. It wasn’t until chapter fourteen, when the characters meet a second time, and begin their story together that the book began to flow.
“Anatole and Zephyrine held hands and wandered among the booths, through the spiraling music, the bursts of laughter and applause, and the sweet, sweet smell of gingerbread and blossom and roasting nuts.”
Yes, this left time for more of a back story to be given about the characters and the current condition that France, in general, was in. Even at this, there were oddly quiet scenes that slowed the pace of the intensity of the final week. For instance, Marie going out to a bistro amidst the conflict, leaving Zephyrine alone once more. While it was obvious, the fighting was not taking place in all of Paris, the entire absence of danger depicted in these chapters made the events to seem subtle and in turn lose some of their importance. The truth being, Paris was engulfed with fierce battle, as a result, events took place that would change the characters forever.
“…One by one, the hostile newspapers were suppressed. It had happened before, less than a hundred years earlier. Paris remembered the Reign of Terror after the first revolution, and shuddered.”
Every storyline was interesting but also felt undeveloped at times, especially as it relates to some of the relationships. I really enjoyed the romance between Zephyrine and Anatole; however, there were moments when it was difficult to tell how Zephyrine really felt. Not knowing left me in suspense, but, some of this suspense was held out for too long. It’s apparent that this book is a passionate one, but as the characters learned, revolutions and uprisings don’t always have the effect or results that their fighters had hoped. There are some interesting plot twists which are developed, however by the end I would have desired more closure on a couple of story lines, such as what happened with Rose after the Bloody Week. Liberty’s Fire is about friendships and love, yet additionally about choosing what is worth battling for and when to stand firm. For the most part, this book was very enjoyable to read for someone of my age. It is through Marie’s story that I learned most about the laws and nature of the Commune. I could relate to Marie at times, like when she had to manage forceful citizens in control of the region and deal with the struggles she must face with the informers helping to locate her brother.
The manner in which the situations in Paris are presented offers plenty of thoughts worth considering on the idea of government and those in control, and the idea of different social classes. The ending of the book seemed rushed, in that, when suddenly hearing that Zephyrine may be on a pontoon returning from being out on the sea, Anatole forgives his friends and is quickly encouraged to take this opportunity to go see Zephyrine. At the point, Anatole learned that Jules had lied and kept the secret of Zephyrine’s fate from him for nine years, but, Anatole forgives him in one sentence and after that, appears to hold little to no resentment. This seems inconsistent for Anatole’s character, especially because of his vast love for Zephyrine, that we see he hasn’t lost when he hears of the pontoon.
“‘And that’s why I lied to you.’ said Jules. ‘Forgive me. Please.’ Anatole nodded, trying to take it in. Jules took both his hands, and looked straight at him, determined that Anatole would believe him this time.”
To conclude, I can say that ‘Liberty’s Fire’ is an emotional story loaded up with tragedy and valor. I got stuck, as odd as it might seem, in the romance that was shared between Zephyrine and Anatole. The characters seem genuine in their strengths and in their weaknesses. Jules, Anatole, Zephyrine and Marie are young individuals we can relate to and understand even when their actions might be less than courageous. The setting of Paris as verbally illustrated; is striking and enticed me to dive deeper into the book. I found myself cheering for the success of the Commune and a happy ending for the 4 main characters. I enjoyed this novel because it was enticing and persuasive in challenging me to open my eyes and explore the lessons of history. The author give us access into the minds of the four main characters. Every character is given their own distinctive voice that seems to relate each individual to the different social classes and districts of Paris. Each character has particular secrets waiting to be uncovered and their own motivations for joining the Commune. These secrets and motives drive the characters failures and actions within a plot that’s covered with twists, turns, and surprises that make the novel an enjoyable read.
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