Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

It has taken almost four months for me to finish the 1100+ pages of Alexandre Dumas' masterpiece The Count of Monte Cristo - which can only be chalked up to the sheer size of the book.  It's wonderful to read, the story is fantastic, the characters are complex and the book deserves all of its renown.

In order to take just the middle 100 pages backpacking, I had to cut my copy into thirds.

The story begins with the admirable and talented seaman, Edmond Dantes, upon whom life is smiling grandly.  Dantes has earned his place at the top of Captain Morrell's ship staff, and he's also engaged to marry Mercedes, the beautiful and charming Catalan.  Clearly, though, this can't possibly work out well for Dantes: he's elicited the passionate envy of his rivals on both fronts.  Danglars feels he was overstepped for promotion to foreman on the ship; Fernand desires Mercedes' affections.  The plot of these two, along with the complicit actions of lazy town drunk Caderousse and the crooked prosecutor Villefort, lands Dantes in jail.

And not just any jail.  We're talking the fortress of the Chateau d'If, a castle on a rocky crag in the Mediterranean.  Dantes is tossed in, the key is thrown away, and our friend is long forgotten by the crooks.

Fortune visits Dantes six years later in the form of "The Mad Friar" Abbe Farina, who's slow and steady plot to dig his way out of the Chateau d'If proves to have some engineering miscalculations.  He lands in Dantes' room, and the Abbe not only convinces Dantes to have faith and live to see another day, but he also teaches him languages, culture, mathematics, science... and the location of otherworldly fortune on the uninhabited island of Monte Cristo.  When Dantes finally gets out, after another eight years in his dark, dank inhumane imprisonment, you can guess where he heads first.

What you can't guess is the path of the rest of his adventures.  Dantes essentially determines his job is to mete out justice, both to the loyal and deserving Morrell, as well as to the four who sent him to his doom.  Fourteen years in an ungodly hell-hole, brother's got an axe to grind.

This tale of love, passion, revenge and deception is incredibly told.  Could Dumas have saved a few hundred pages along the way?  Probably.  But then, what's a thousand pages between friends.

Next up: Nobel-prize winner Desert by J.M.G. LeClezio, which came highly recommended by the young Russian woman who works at my local bookstore.  

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