Candide, ou l’Optimisme is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment.
My rating: ★★★★ out of 5 stars
I have no idea why I’ve waited so long to read this book. I listened to it, along with another short tale called Zadig. I will review Zadig later, but it’s like a Candide with an oriental flair.
I thought Candide was a philosophical dissertation about the topic of human nature. I was not prepared for this adventures packed short novel, full of humor, witticism, and so engaging, accessible, and modern in style.
Many say Candide is dated. As with In Praise of Folly, I’m sure that when we read them, the specific references to events and people that these books satires are aimed at, may be lost to us. But I don’t think one needs to know all the references to get the humor, or to fully enjoy it. If I had to learn first about the philosophies and personages of past centuries, I’d never have read Dante’s Inferno, or In Praise of Folly. I couldn’t help but enjoying Candide, laughing with the book, and, I believe, getting the irony. Maybe comments like that dissuade people from reading books that are truly modern, and easy to follow and enjoy by someone like me, without much historical or philosophical knowledge of the authors’ eras. I’ve seen this book being compared to Don Quijote, if so, it’s a Don Quijote on steroids and boiled down to a few frantic pages, with a dash of Dante’s Inferno, and even of Robinson Crusoe. The characters go through exacerbated tragedies, and it becomes so comic to the point that no matter if people are stabbed to death, or hanged, the reader will see them spring back to life in the next chapters with fantastic explanations of how they escaped death.
There’s a serious moral of this caricature of life at the end of the book. And even in the midst of this parody, it was very credible. I won’t spoil it. I have to say that listening to Candide was just a bit over 2 hours. As with In Praise of Folly, they are books I’m going to listen or read again.
It delighted me to hear many places in Spain appear in the book. Voltaire gives us an accurate image of the craziness of his era, where Europe, Asia, and the Americas saw a constant flux of people from different social hierarchies, religions, and ethnicity. Candide and his companions tumble across continents, changing fortune (from rich to poor and everything in between), and social status (nobles to slaves).
“‘What is optimism?’, said Cacambo. ‘Alas!’ said Candide, ‘it is the mania of maintaining that everything is well when we are wretched.'” Chapter 19, pg. 83
I highly recommend this book!