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A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow I was blessed not to have known the conclusion of this story before I set out reading it with my sister, completely innocent of its meanings and greatness. Now, of course, I know how transcending it is in skill and theme.

It is a social commentary on the French Revolution. We see the slow and roiling growth of a oppressed people, bursting into a wave of Terror, where our heroes and heroines find themselves hopelessly captured. The analysis of the complexity of the morality of the French Revolution is fair and enlightening: Dickens sees the inevitability of the uprising, knows it is a judgement on the wicked crimes of the aristocracy, yet he will also denounce the base, unjust and animal result of that same Revolution. He warns against a repeat of this performance – a heartless upper class that sees no humanity in the peasants; and the harvested violence of the Revolution that was sown by those gold-plated hands. It is historical analysis and social commentary at its best.

Dickens has a way with words, a delicious skill in humor and dialogue, and a stunning store of unique and engaging characters: the complex, melancholy Sydney Carton; the cold, calculating wickedness of Madame Defarge; the quiet, sympathetic Doctor Manette; the beautiful, pure Miss Manette; the sharp, spunky Miss Pross; the “flopping” wife of crude Jerry Cruncher. And how Dickens weaves these people into each other – masterwork itself!

But what endures is the humanity, humility, and incredible selflessness of many of these people. And how can I miss the wonderful message of resurrection and hope? “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

The powerful redemption at the end is worth the slow buildup of tension in the early pages of the story. It will shock you with the cold-blooded thirst of fallen humanity, open your eyes to love and true self-sacrifice, and move you to the highest ideals of the soul. It’s a story that escapes its historical setting and offers a pertinent depth for all of us.

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