L'Assommoir (The Drinking Den, or Dram Shop)
Widely acknowledged as one of Emile Zola's masterpieces, "L'Assommoir" is a novel immersed in the harsh poverty and relief-giving alcoholism of working-class Paris in the nineteenth century. At the heart of Zola's shockingly realistic descriptions is Gervaise, a mother abandoned by her lover who must learn to survive alone on what she can earn. When she marries the abstemious roof-worker Coupeau and manages to open her own laundry, life is for a while successful and happy. Unfortunately, Coupeau is seriously injured shortly after the birth of their daughter Anna, and his plunge into heavy drinking soon proves ruinous for the entire family. A contemporary commercial triumph, Zola's novel sparked discussion and criticism in both the social and literary realms, establishing the author's international reputation for a masterful use of the French language that devastatingly depicted the tragedy of realism.
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