cover image City of Darkness, City of Light

City of Darkness, City of Light

Marge Piercy. Fawcett Books, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-449-91268-3

Depicting the experiences of three brave women, Piercy (Gone to Soldiers) explores the human reality of the French Revolution, bringing to life the immense role women played in bringing down the monarchy. Claire Lacombe escapes the grinding poverty of her youth by becoming an actress in a traveling troupe. Beautiful and filled with the determination that can be forged by enduring hardship, she becomes an inspiring symbol as she dares to participate in pivotal events. Manon Philipon, a jeweler's daughter, idolizes Rousseau and the life of the mind. Marrying an austere government bureaucrat, she learns that she has an innate grasp of politics. Pauline Leon, the owner of a chocolate shop, is galvanized when she witnesses the executions of poor people rioting for bread. Their three stories are deftly braided with the lives of three men--the incorruptible Robespierre, the opportunistic Danton and Nicolas Caritat, an academician trying to walk the high wire between old and new. Men may be necessary to drive the plot, but women are its engine. It is women who take to the streets looking for ""justice, bread and freedom,"" and who win concessions on issues like divorce and inheritance rights. Piercy skillfully juxtaposes the political debates, painfully slow reforms and bloody confrontations against the ironies and absurdities of everyday life. Since the novel offers multiple perspectives, events sometimes overlap and readers must pay close attention to the dates listed with chapter headings. This is a minor obstacle, however, in a novel that adds fresh, powerfully grounding perspective to accepted historical fact. QPB featured alternate. (Nov.)