Candide

by Voltaire

“I have been in several provinces. . . in all, the principal occupation is love, the next is slander, and the third is talking nonsense.”

Candide seems to have mastered one central theme, and the book will pound you over the head with it:

If a man is standing over an open cesspool, breathing in the vapors, he can tell himself, ‘That’s the sweet aroma of butternut pumpkin pie on a summer morning, perhaps with a hint of maple and notes of nutmeg and gingerbread.’ He can see the murky surface and say, ‘That water is the purest cerulean blue, and my reflection shows a man of stature and prominence with the world at my feet.’ A man can tell himself these things about his life so many times that he actually believes them. He’s still standing over a cesspool.

This is a satire, a comedy, but it can be horrifying in its depiction of our reality. Still, you’ll find yourselves bellowing laughter repeatedly over the book.

Candide, a young man fresh out of philosophical studies with his master, has learned a few things. Everything is as it should, and must, be. The world is perfect, because even when there are hardships they serve other purposes and lead to unforeseeable circumstances which turn the world positively forward. Therefore, everything is good.

At the tale’s onset Candide pursues and falls in love with the beautiful Cunegonde. Then his philosophy teacher is imprisoned and hanged setting off a dramatic chain of events which eventually familiarizes Candide with the real world. Cunegonde is stolen from him, circumstances lead to him killing a Baron, and he flees his city to begin adventuring in search for his love. He is bludgeoned by life at every turn yet maintains his positive attitude of ‘everything is good, all is as it should be.’ As his fortunes rise and fall throughout his adventures he encounters all manner of people, most of who take advantage of his naivety and leave him as penniless as possible, often barely with his life.

The book is mainly philosophy, and while philosophy can often be rewarding it’s many times too heavy to replace entertainment. Written in 1759, this short novel is 100% applicable today and is nearly 100% accessible. It’s quite a marvel, as often classics have an additional language barrier to overcome which affects the rating if reviewing in today’s context for today’s readers.

Candide
is a puzzle-box but also a lively story of optimism and despair, and it deserves permanent shelf-space as an unexpected grand slam.

“What is this optimism?” said Cacambo.

“Alas!” said Candide, “it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

5 stars

 

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