Éric Vuillard ‘The War of the Poor’

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“The War of the Poor”: In order of reading book number 6.


Because the powerful never give up anything, neither bread nor freedom. It is then at that moment that he utters before them his most terrible words. Before the Crown Prince, Duke John, the Bailiff Zeus, the Mayor and Council of Allstedt, after the sword, the poor, Nebuchadnezzar, and the wrath of God, now Müntzer says: death to impious Monarchs.***


This is the story of the poor and their little known rebellions, first of all in England in the 14th century, of John Wyclif who proned translating the bible into the language of the people, who would then have a direct relationship with God and would not need the corrupt clergy, this of course was not a popular idea amongst the rich. After his death one of his disciples, John Ball fomented a peasants revolt due in part to over taxation which was then carried forward by Watt Tyler who marched on London with upwards of 60000 peasants who looted and beheaded judges. The peasants wern’t really prepared, and when the tide turned tens of thousands were put to the sword.

In the next century came the printing press and the bible was then printed in the language of the people. The revolt then flairs up in Germany lead by Thomas Müntzer who goes further than Luther:


His mass in German raised an outcry. People came from all around Allstedt to listen to the word of God, crowds gathered to hear a priest speak to them, for the first time, in their own language. In the church in Allsttedt, God spoke German.***


Müntzer was full of a vindictive rage against the corrupt Clergy and the ruling classes stirring up the people as part if the great peasant uprising of the early 16th century. Where once again up to 100000 of the the poorly prepared people were slaughtered by the arisocrats armies.

This all too short a book, only 46 pages, only scratched the surface of a passionate subject, of these two interesting excerpts of history.

First Published in French as “La guerre des pauvres” in 2019 by Actes Sud.
Translated into English by Mark Polizzotti and published as The War of the Poor by Other Press in 2020
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Car les puissants ne cèdent jamais rien, ni le pain ni la liberté. Et c’est à ce moment qu’il prononce devant eux sa plus terrible parole. Devant le duc Jean, le prince héritier, le bailli Zeiss, le bourgmestre et le conseil d’Allstedt, après le glaive, les pauvres, Nabuchodonosor et la colère de Dieu, voici que Müntzer dit: il faut tuer les souverains impies.

Il va plus loin que Luther. Sa messe en allemand soulève un tollé. Les gens viennent des alentours d’Allstedt écouter la parole de Dieu, des foules se déplacent pour entendre un prêtre s’adresser à eux pour la première fois dans leur langue. Dans l’église d’Allstedt, Dieu parle allemand.

Cristina Comencini ‘When The Night’


The milk will come, you just have to believe. It seems you have to believe in milk, and maybe I just didn’t believe strongly enough, and that’s why it didn’t come. F1BF3673-7EEB-4B3F-A6DB-69CFE34962D9My mother tried to reassure me. “It will come, don’t worry. I didn’t have milk, but you will be more fortunate.”


In this story, read for Italian lit month, Cristina Comencini contrasts the mental mistrust of Manfred, the rough mountain guide, and Marina, visiting from the city, for each other with their overwhelming physical attraction one for the other.

The story is told in two voices, first Manfred and then Marina as we first discover Marina through Manfred’s narration, a young woman come to stay in the mountains with her baby son in Manfred’s rental flat above his home. Manfred is bitter and has his misgivings about women in general and about Marina in particular, he hears a baby crying above him, a bang then silence, he reacts rushing uncannily quickly upstairs to find Marina crying in a corner and the young child who has “fallen” from the table and against Marina’s wishes he rushes them to the hospital. We learn from Marina of the difficulty she has coming to terms with having a baby in the opening quote.

Manfred is one of three sons, brought up in the mountains alone by his father, a rustic life taught to be frugal and untrusting of women, his elder brother has a restaurant high on the mountain slopes and his younger brother is a womaniser living in the same mountain town, as he says to Marina:


But I was honest: I told her what I was like, that I know nothing about women, and that my mother abandoned us when we were little. Ran off with an American. I never saw her again. I know she remarried and had more kids in America, because our father told us.


Manfred eventually decides not to report Marina to the police for his suspicion about her son’s injury and despite themselves they are slowly drawn together, after quarrelling in Manfred’s brothers restaurant one night, Marina gets a lift down the mountain and Manfred decides to walk, when she doesn’t hear him down stairs in his apartment she calls the rescue services who consequently find him injured and save his life in the mountains. Marina visits him in hospital ready to leave her husband for him and then abruptly leaves the mountains to go back home to her husband, we learn years later that the story turned here about Manfred’s youthful family trauma as she tells years later when she revisits the mountains hoping to see Manfred, after her son has grown up and left home:


How long should I wait? What if he doesn’t come? What would Marco and Sylvia think if they saw me? That’s not our mother sitting waiting for a man and how about Mario he’s never known that I might need him that for me none of this is natural, but I still want to dance, to flee, to inflict pain. I never made a promise to them, but I made a promise to him, don’t leave the boy.


Theirs is a tragic love, how does their second chance end? Well you’ll just have to read it to find out.

First published in Italian as ‘Quando la Notte’ by Feltrinelli in 2009
Translated into English by Marina Harss as “When the Night” and published by Other Press in 2011

Fabio Genovesi ‘Live Bait’

I discovered Fabio Genovesi when his ‘Chi Manda les Ondes’ was long listed for the 2015 Strega prize, his previous book has recently been translated into English as ‘Live Bait’ helping me with my weak knowledge of contemporary Italian writers (few other nominees have translated works). image The style of the book is a young, dual narrator, high energy, present tense approach, this brings to my mind both ‘The Long Firm’ and ‘La Rue des Boutiques Obscures’. The story is set in the Tuscany that we as visitors never see, Muglione, a village off the beaten track, surrounded by smelly irrigation ditches. There are three main characters: Fiorenzo the 18 year old centre point, who despite serious setbacks (losing both his hand and his mother before the book really gets going) is a lively eternal optimist whose belief is in life it’s better to have lots of dreams because it works like bingo cards: the more you have, the better your chances of winning. Tiziana, who had left Muglione to study successfully in Munich and who has accepted a job back in this godforsaken village and is, in contrast to Fiorenzo, a self doubter but shares with him a spontaneous side. Mirko, the little champ a fourteen year old cycling phenomenon that could one day put Muglione on the map. This is a story full of secondary characters and local colour, I laughed out loud at some of the situations, Tiziana’s friend, Raffaella, in the chapter All Tigers Are Lesbians had me in stitches The ups and downs of life in a small village taking in the complicated relationships between the main characters gives here a true off beat comedy I was glad to read and am looking forward to the translation of ‘Chi Manda les Ondes’ I enjoyed this book

Live Bait: First published as Esche Vive by Mondadori in 2011
Translated into English by Michael F Moore and publish by Other Press in 2014
Translated into French by Dominique Vittoz as Appâts Vivants and published by Fayard in 2012