City of Darkness,City of Light

ISBN: 0517327880
ISBN 13: 9780517327883
By: Marge Piercy Marge Percy

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Reader's Thoughts


I've been looking for a fictional book about the french revolution that would really explain its origins and progression. Tried Tale of 2 cities, which of course is a great book, but it didn't introduce me to the characters and progression of the revolution. This did. Not an easy or fun read- basically 8 stories of initially unrelated people's experience of the revoultion and role in it. I enjoyed that it includes women as primary characters, and includes some background on slavery and women's rights as revolutionary issues.

Marina Mowrey

The point of historical fiction is to tell the true story from a particular person's perspective. This book doesn't really do that--it rotates around half a dozen people, none of whom are especially interesting, and I just haven't gotten emotionally invested in any of it.

Randi Winter

This rather detailed account of the French Revolution added to my knowledge especially regarding the in-fighting that propelled the Reign of Terror. It was fun to read in conjunction with a trip to Paris. I did find it a bit long and tedious, however.


This book was too much. Too many characters, too many pages, too many intertwining stories that never actually intertwined. I found that I would read one section about one character and by the time that character appeared again, I had forgotten their story. Boring. I should have stopped reading. I am sure there are much better books about the French Revolution.


My feelings on this book were really divided. Sometimes I was really pulled in and captivated by the characters. Other times, I felt like it couldn't go by fast enough. I think part of the problem was that I wasn't really thrilled by the style the story was written in; it felt very much like telling instead of showing. Still, it was a very interesting look at the French Revolution, a subject that I don't do a lot of reading on, and it made me think that I might like to do more reading about it in the future.


My one gripe with this fictionalized history has more to do with history than the book itself. The constantly revolving cast of characters had my head spinning. And while it's not a Russian novel with 14 names for each character, Pierce often does refer to the same character by both first and last name in the same paragraph, which slows me down quite a bit.I feel like I learned something about the French Revolution, but mostly I got a better sense of how the revolution was a revolving door of governments killing off their predecesors. Nasty stuff.


i'd almost forgotten about this book. At the time i read it felt like it was really well written with really intricate character involvement and lots of thought put into it. I don't read much historical fiction, but i remember my impressions of the French revolution coming together much more clearly after reading this and i really like the angles from which she approached the events. Yeah, i remember liking it a lot.


For me, Reading Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light was like entering a time machine; it made me feel I was actually living through the French Revolution! The story is told through six actual historical figures: Claire Lacombe, Maximilien Robespierre, Manon Roland, Pauline Leon, Marie Jean Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet and Georges-Jacques Danton. Through their actions and associations, we meet most of the major figures of the period. I read this book for the first time about 10 years ago, while simultaneously reading a biography of Marie Antoinette, and enjoyed both immensely. I was prompted to read City of Darkness, City of Light again now because since 7/7/14 I've been enrolled in a free MOOC course at -The French Revolution, taught by Peter McPhee of the University of Melbourne. It's a great class, and I've learned amazing facts about the Revolution and life in Europe during the last half of the 18th century. Re-reading the novel while taking the course has been a real treat! Even if you know nothing about the history of France and the French Revolution, I highly recommend that you read this book.


For an American whose only knowledge of the events leading up to the French Revolution was based on a sketchy version of Louis XV and Marie Antionette, sprinled with a little Les Miz, this was an eye-opener. I love good historical fiction and this was great. One of the few books kept in my permanent lending library and which I'll probably re-read many times as I felt the events sort of slipped up on me (as it did on the noblesse, I'm sure) and so I'll need to revisit it a few times to really grasp it.

Geoff Sebesta

Update: have now read about ten books on the revolution. This is by far the best. By FAR.I credit this book with sparking my fascination with the French Revolution over the last nine months -- I've read five or six other books on the subject since then. Piercy does a masterful job of humanizing the events, putting them in order and making them mean something. I would recommend this book as an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the subject.


Marge Piercy recreates a well-rounded experience of The French Revolution by alternating the point-of-view of different characters: Claire (an actress), Max (Robespierre), Nicolas (an academic), Manon (an artisan's daughter/bureaucrat's wife), Pauline (a chocolatier), and Georges (an aspiring politician).Through these main characters the reader learns how the revolution affected different groups of people. Pauline and Claire are the closest to the poor people (the sans-coulottes) and the women who protested for the right to divorce, the right to inherit and the right to feed their families.Manon showed the other side of women's politics - a woman who was well educated and influential but priding herself on staying behind the scenes as a "proper woman."The men - Max, Nicolas, and Georges lead the reader through the range of revolutionary thought. Maximillian Robespierre was focused on his virtue and his belief that he stood for the people, although he didn't believe they should be making decisions directly. Nicolas struggled for true suffrage and an elaborate governmental set-up to secure those rights against the popular demand. Georges is the new politician - political because he sees a way to move up in the world.Many of the issues discussed in the book seem pertinent to today's political climate - how the rich pay less to the common cause than the poor, politicians and bureaucrats who are more focused on retaining their power than responding to the will of the people, and how after huge changes are made society seems to take several steps back so that only some minor changes remain.

Suzanne Prichard

It cured me of my obsession with the French Revolution. What is that called, the technique of having every chapter be a different character - and nobody ever really interacts? I I know - LAZY!


It took me a few tries to get into this book, but once I did I was captivated. Piercy tells the story of the French Revolution from the perspective of a handful of the major players, including several women. The books does a great job of giving the story of the French Revolution more dimension than it gets in history textbooks. It also describes the Reign of Terror, illuminating it as a witch hunt. Piercy also does a great job of making most of the characters, in spite of their wildly differing viewpoints, seem sympathetic.


brilliant. read it 3 times :)


I just reread this. It's great historical fiction with strong female characters. And they strong without making them seem too modern for the setting like in the Red Tent or books like that. And Piercy puts women at the center of some of the great Fr. Rev action -- but she also very realistically keeps them out of the decision making and the end absolutely rings true. The portrayal of Robespierre is especially good here because he comes across as much more human and more real than he ever did in my history courses. She makes interesting associations with the American Revolution and points out that most French people saw themselves as people of their regions and villages and not as French until the Fr. Rev.I really enjoyed this telling of the French Revolution, but like with all historical fiction, I am left wanting to know what was true and what was made up to suit the story. That's my problem, I guess, and I should read up on that...Oh well, Vive la France! Et particulièrement femmes françaises.

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