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Zora — A Cruel Tale

Zora — A Cruel Tale

Published Feb 9, 2024 Updated Feb 9, 2024 Culture
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Zora — A Cruel Tale

The title says it all: this novel plunges us into absolute cruelty while maintaining the atmosphere of a fairytale. Having won the Prix Robert-Cliche was awarded every year for the best first novel of the year, the book written by Philippe Arseneault was published by the publisher Hexagone in June 2014.

I was initially drawn to this book due to the title. Zorra is the Spanish translation of fox and this animal is my fetish animal. However, there’s nothing related to that cute animal in this story. “Zora, A Cruel Tale” tells the story of the life and destiny of Zora Marjanna Lavenko, whose parents die shortly after her birth and who is adopted by Seppo, a disgusting tripier who owns the Farting Bear Inn. The first part of the story takes place in this macabre place where the scum of society gathers: abortionists, rapists, and drunkards. The inn is located in the terrifying Fredouilles forest in northern Finland.

Be warned, sensitive souls

The novel is marked by its linguistic quality. Using terms that situate us in the time and universe in which the action takes place, an ancient-sounding language is used to describe in detail cruel elements that disgust and terrify us. You really don’t need to have a sensitive soul to read this work, as much as the food is described so precisely that we can imagine ourselves tasting it — Seppo’s cooking leaves much to be desired, him using tripe and all animal parts without regard — as much as the cruel acts are committed and we can imagine ourselves being the victims due to the writing style.

The novel does not meet with unanimous approval

Reviews of the book are mixed. One of the main criticisms is that fairy tales usually have a moral at the end, and that this is missing from the novel. Indeed, the end of the story may not have a clear moral, but I think that the events as a whole can lead us to question humanity. The characters are recluses of society, acting without respect for others, individualistic and cruel, treating others (especially women) as animals or as mere rag dolls, scraps of meat.

So cruel

The cruelty that is practiced, but described as reality, is shocking. Spitting on a newborn baby, repeatedly raping a woman and keeping her as a slave, kidnapping or chaining up human beings, barely feeding them, and letting them urinate and defecate on each other… these are just a few examples of elements described in detail as part of reality. We can easily imagine that there was a time in History when such acts could have been carried out — and even today, in third-world countries. Even though this is just a tale, or fiction, imagining or wondering whether such practices could or did happen, makes us feel a temporary disgust for humanity as we read the novel.

Fortunately, the main character, Zora, is strong, and knowing nothing else about life, she doesn’t seem to realize the pain of her existence. She goes through various adventures and reminds us that in adversity, plunged into evil, we can always go for it and find a way to grow.

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