cover image The War of the Poor

The War of the Poor

Éric Vuillard, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Other Press, $17.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-63542-008-1

Prix Goncourt winner Vuillard (The Order of the Day) revisits the 16th-century German Peasants’ War in this pithy portrait of radical reformist preacher Thomas Müntzer (c. 1489–1525). Vuillard’s dramatic rendition, nimbly translated by Polizzotti, begins shortly after Müntzer’s father was executed by a count for reasons now unknown, and tracks his rise from “street urchin of the Harz Mountains” to self-declared “destroyer of the faithless,” whose literal readings of scripture and calls for “a world without privilege, property, or government” spurred German peasants to revolt against nobles and burghers in 1524. Vuillard quotes from extant letters and sermons to convey Müntzer’s sharp-tongued revolutionary charisma (“you miserable, wretched sack of maggots,” he once called a noble who had banned German-language Masses; he also called Martin Luther, who sided with the princes against the peasants, “the easy-living flesh of Wittenberg”), and cinematically recreates the Battle of Frankenhausen, when Müntzer and his “band of vagabonds” were routed by “several thousand well-armed, battle-hardened men.” (Vuillard disputes accounts that Müntzer fled the battle and hid before he was captured, tortured, and beheaded.) This unique and provocative account brings the chaos of the Reformation to vibrant life, reminding readers that “quarrels about the Beyond have to do with the world here-below.” (Nov.)