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“Candide” Revisited

I grabbed Candide from an impulse before heading out the door. I ended up reading it all in one sitting at lunch.

Candide is a masterpiece of satirical and comical literature. Heedless of the connotations and historical references, the third time around is pure enjoyment and absorption of Voltaire’s philosophy. It’s a fast-paced adventure story and travelogue, an unsentimental love story, a fantasy replete with history. Voltaire has a knack for creating a staccato rhythm in narration, which often achieves comic effect.

Voltaire’s early optimism underwent a profound change under the impact of events in his personal life as well as in reaction to the natural and man-made catastrophes that made him keenly aware of human suffering and misery, not to mention the dangers that threaten existence, let alone one’s well-being and chances of achieving happiness.

Many a times to read is to become enlightened the history of the period in which the writer lived. Voltaire’s own disappointments—the unexpected loss of Madame du Chatelet, the unrelenting hostility of the court of Louis XV—were compounded by his intense and immediate empathy; he spontaneously identified with all victims of calamities, war, injustice, prejudice, and intolerance—all contribute to the fictional events in Candide.

Candide is supremely wrought tragicomedy. It induces me to laugh at and at the same time reflect upon the most dreadful events that befall humankind. It appeals to us today because, nearly 250 years after its publication, it has lost none of its relevance and satirical sting. The book unleashes fierce attack against the evils of religious fanaticism (in present day religious intolerance and terrorism), war (war), colonialism (border dispute), slavery (trampling on human rights), and mass atrocities. But above all, to gives a glimpse of hope, it proclaims the human capacity to survive the worse of these calamities and endure.

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