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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
To Live Out Loud: A Novel by Paulette Mahurin is not only a novel, it’s a good primer on the Dreyfus case, a cause celebre in late 19th century France that highlighted the issue of French anti-Semitism. In To Live Out Loud, the story is told through an older family friend of the writer Emile Zola, who became the unofficial leader of those who thought that Captain Alfred Dreyfus was innocent of charges of spying for Germany. Briefly, although the actual evidence pointed to another officer, Ferdinand Esterhazy, the French Army apparently decided to make a scapegoat of Dreyfus, a Jew whose family came from Alsace – a region disputed between France and Germany. In To Live Out Loud, we hardly ever see Dreyfus himself. The focus is on Zola, who is soon accused of libel and put on trial himself after he publishes his famed open letter, “J’Accuse.”
While many people are familiar with the basics of the Dreyfus case, Paulette Mahurin tells you some details that the reader might not be aware of, such as the fact that Zola had to escape to England undercover because there were so many threats against him. She does a good job of depicting the anti-Semitic mob, both in the street and in the audience at the various trials themselves. She also shows how deference to authority was part of 19th century French society — while the narrator, Zola, and others in their circle were outraged at the miscarriages of justice and cover-ups in the Dreyfus affair, it took several years before Zola decided to “go public” with his opposition. In today’s world, the press would be all over the case from the beginning. All in all, To Live Out Loud is an excellent fictionalization of the Dreyfus case, which showed that even in “enlightened” France, Jews were not safe from bigotry.