In this moving depiction of a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, the master French realist Émile Zola (1840-1902) has created a novel of vivid characters and subtle commentary on suffering and the belief in miracles as the last desperate refuge from pain. Zola's brilliant powers of observation are at their best as he moves from character to character describing in great detail their physical illnesses, as well as their hopes, beliefs, fears, and above all their endurance. Zola himself makes a brief appearance in the story, disguised as a skeptical reporter whose probing questions embarrass a doctor in charge of verifying the alleged miracles. In the end, amidst the tumult of emotions whipped up by religious fervor a miracle of sorts does take place, a psychosomatic "cure" of a woman suffering from hysterical paralysis. In our age of televangelists and faith healers, this story has lost none of its relevance.
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