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Friday, August 26, 2011

Zadig

Ever since I read E=MC2 I have wanted to read some Voltaire. Last summer I bought Candide. It was my first even Kindle book, I didn't even own a Kindle back then, I just used the Kindle program for my Droid. I started reading Candide immediately and fell in love with it. unfortunately a four inch back lit screen is not an ideal reading format so I gave up after a couple of hours. Soon after I purchased a Nook, and then a few months later a Kindle but by that time finishing Candide fell by the wayside for a bit. In a download frenzy of Amazon classics I picked up Zadig and started reading it.

What I love about Voltaire is that his stories sound like Bible stories in viewpoint, vocabulary and because they are told in parable form. However unlike The Bible, no divine creator sets things right. Whether things go right or wrong, fate is in the driver's seat and we mortals are just along for the ride. The books feel like Sunday school lessons delivered by Heller or Vonnegut. I almost expected every chapter to end with "I had to laugh like Hell".

The story of Zadig reminds me of Joseph from the bible. The book begins with Zadig about to enter wedded bliss with his fiance Simere but this is not to be. His rival Orcan eventually wins the heart of Simere and Zadig finds another bride. Now that he is distrustful of women, Zadig designs an elaborate scheme to fake his death and test the loyalty of his wife, Azora. She fails to pass the test which also involves an elaborate scheme where he fakes his own death and pretends to leave his modest fortune to his best friend.

Zadig begins to wander between kingdoms, like the Old Testament, it is set in the middle east in early days where each city and the surrounding farms or pastures are a different kingdom. He is promptly captured but like quickly rises to become an adviser to the king. After a set of adventures involving queens, fools, imaginary creatures and hermits he rides the ups and downs that fate deals him and eventually becomes a king. The ending is happy but you absolutely know that Zadig could have just as easily ended up a blind prophet in India.

The book wasn't too long. I finished in in a couple of afternoons. I really liked the translation of the free version on Amazon.com. I assume this was a scanned version of an out of copyright translation because a couple of the letters were consistently switched. This didn't ruin the book but was a little distracting. If you want a perfect copy you will probably have to go to the library or pony up a small amount of change. I would recommend giving up an afternoon or two to read this. Not only will you realize that people who have been dead for 350 years can make you laugh, but what's more impressive than saying you've read some Voltaire at your next cocktail party?

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