You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, May 19, 2010 : 6 a.m.

This week's recommended read: 'A Tale of Two Cities' by Charles Dickens

By Melissa LR Handa


It may be challenging at first, but stick it out. "A Tale of Two Cities" will captivate you when it all comes together in the end.


Preview…Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” begins and ends with what are perhaps two of the most famous literary quotations ever—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…”. Admittedly, it took me quite some time to get into the story line, but once I did, I was hit by a tidal wave of wonderment.

I was first fascinated by Doctor Manette who was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years and subsequently driven mad. He spends every day creating and recreating the same pair of shoes as a way of keeping his mind occupied. Manette’s daughter, Lucie, comes to collect him and take him home.

A pair of unrelated look-alikes soon fall in love with Lucie: Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat and Sydney Carton, an alcoholic attorney. Ultimately, Darnay wins her hand, though Carton is never able to overcome his immense love for her. Manette grants Lucie’s hand to Darnay, but the suitor has a secret that upon being revealed sends the good doctor into a mad nine-day shoe-making frenzy. The two are married nonetheless and Lucie gives birth to a daughter.

Meanwhile, Manette’s former servant Defarge and his wife along with an army of devoted “Jacques”s are busy nurturing the whispers of the French Revolution (a historical event that is incredibly popular within classic literature). Madame Defarge turns the lackadaisical hobby of knitting into a means by which to create a covert hit list of the Revolution’s enemies.

Defarge’s list includes Charles Darnay and also his wife and daughter by association. Darnay is arrested and sentenced to the guillotine. Sydney Carton, who until this point has felt wasted and without purpose, calls on his inexorable love for Lucie to perform a classic switcheroo, saving Darnay from his fate and protecting the woman he loves, while catapulting himself to the top of my list of amazingly admirable literary heroes. “It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

You may like this book if…you are moved by the self-sacrificial love displayed by Carton, You would like to be able to quote “A Tale of Two Cities” and understand the implications of what you are saying, you are interested in the French Revolution or other books that have approached it, you find the idiosyncratic manifestations of madness fascinating, you think the nobility of yesteryear are evil snobs, you love it when every single minute detail of a story comes together beautifully and unexpectedly in a gripping conclusion, you believe in redemption and a higher calling, you think sometimes justice is just and sometimes it is grossly the opposite, you like finishing a book and feeling so moved by its outcome that you have to just sit there for a few minutes and reflect on it

You may not like this book if…you get too attached to fictional characters and cannot handle it when needless and horrible things happen to them; you don’t have the best attention span (if this is the case, read “A Christmas Carol” so that you can still have a Dickensian experience); you are disgusted by the need for the child to pay for the sins of the father; you think Madame Defarge may just ruin your love of knitting.

Melissa LR Handa is the founder and organizer for the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group and the Lead Books Contributor for Her goal is to make classic literature more accessible to the everyday reader.


Macabre Sunset

Wed, May 19, 2010 : 6:17 p.m.

I just can't get into Dickens no matter how much I try. Maybe because of the serial nature of his novels (designed for publication in pieces in magazines).