I had never read Emile Zola until my graduate school class in French literature at the Institute of French Studies at N.Y.U. This is years ago when the baby boy had just turned two, I was pregnant with the baby girl and I was still working full-time. Needless to say, my cup runneth over, my plate was full. Despite the hectic schedule and the extra demands of my time my two courses placed on me, I fell in love with Emile Zola as a writer. I read La Terre, The Earth, it was a brilliant social commentary on the brutal existence of the French peasant. The characters were brought to life in a way that I had never seen before, it was raw and real. You actually felt their exhaustion, their drudgery and the occasional flare of hope that sometimes smoldered but all to often was dashed. He, of course, has an incredible series of books called the Rougon-Macquart cycle. He actually intended to write this cycle as a natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire. When we meet the family Rougon, they are a violent family bent on getting their way through any means necessary, Zola juxtaposed them against the passive Macquart family, who lived their lives reacting to how society ruled their lives and the actions meted out against them by the Rougon family. Throughout the cycle, the reader learns through this social examination, how wretched the conditions were for the urban proletariat during the 19th century, how rampant alcoholism plagued the urban poor, how the mistresses of the rich lived in very uncertain circumstances. I have always been interested in France, history and Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas were always two of my favorites and when I had the good fortune of reading Zola, I had found an even greater author to read. His use of words designed to bring you firmly into his world and into his characters world is in my opinion without equal. If ever you want to be reminded how in some ways we have made our lives better, I highly suggest that you take a look at “The Earth” or if you want to visit the gritty world of Paris circa 1860’s-1890’s than the Rougon-Macquart books are worth a read.