By Matthew Bitz
A few weeks ago I gave you a list of suggested reading, books that I felt were worthy of your time and books that were entertaining, something to break up the routine of summer.
Regardless of whether or not you chose to read any of these titles, I felt that one of them deserves to have its own moment of praise.
"Les Miserables" was written by Victor Hugo and published simultaneously in nine languages in 1869. It is without a doubt was of the most influential novels of its day and is now regarded as one the greatest classic works of literature ever written. Period.
As the title translates, "The Miserable" is the bittersweet story of the beat-down, hungry masses in France, all woven around the life of one man, Jean Valjean.
The tale of Jean Valjean is a sad one, as a young man he is sent to prison for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He enters the galley broken and despairing and leaves hard and cruel. Seeking shelter for the night shortly after his release, he is taken in by a bishop. Valjean returns the kindness by stealing the silver. He is captured by the police and is on his way back to the galley when the bishop saves his life for no other reason than kindness by giving to Valjean two silver candlesticks that were also in the house, saying that he had in fact given all the silver to the wretch.
This act of mercy so changes Valjean that he devotes the rest of his life to doing what is good and right. He becomes the mayor of a small town and helps to provide shelter and work for those who need it.
However, his dark past returns to haunt him in the form of an inspector named Javert, a man so obsessed with the law that he will stop at nothing to find Valjean.
Valjean is faced with that greatest of struggles, to do what he knows to be right and suffer for it whether the suffering be deserved or not, or to hide from it and live
with that on his soul.
I think that Les Miserables is quite possibly the best illustration to date of the struggles of the human spirit, and of its quiet triumphs.
If you read one book this summer, make it this one.