July 01, 2010

Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky, 1903-1942
Ah!  There is so much I want to be reading right now.  I started the Muriel Spark biography I mentioned a few weeks ago, and it is not very pleasant reading.  I'm very disappointed.  But, I find Spark fascinating, so I'll keep on reading.

Meanwhile, another biography is out that I am keen on--of Irene Nemirovsky, a french novelist who died in Aushwitz.  Nemirovsky's masterpiece is the recently discovered Suite Française, about France during the invasion of Hitler.   The novel's manuscript was preserved for years by her daughters.  Thinking it was her diary, and therefore too painful to examine, they did not read it until the late 90's.  When they did finally look at it they discovered it was not a personal diary, but a fascinating and compelling two part novel that gives an account of France during WWII.  The first half narrates the evacuation of Paris with a characters from all classes and types--the entitled and proud, the artificially generous, as well as the hard working and honest.  The second half shows the influence of the war on a small french village.

I read much of the first half of the book, but found that characters so insufferable (they are supposed to be), that I had to put it down.  I am just diving back into Part 2, Dolce, about the French village.  I've read Fire in the Blood several times.  Narrated by an old man, looking back on a love affair of his youth, it is brooding, winsome, and totally compelling.  I don't know how she managed to capture the voice of an old lonely man so well, but she doesn't it beautifully.

Anyway, a biography of Nemirovsky was just released last month, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.  There was an review in the New York Times that grapples with Nemirovsky's Jewish background, and a really excellent review in the WSJ (quoted below).  The WSJ also has an excerpt from chapter one of the biography.
"Suite Française" consisted of two novellas: "Tempête," which caustically captured the hurly-burly of Paris as the Nazis occupied it in 1940; and "Dolce," which pictured the strangely normal French life that managed to persist in a nearby village. Readers of "Suite Française," even if unaware of Némirovsky's fate in the Holocaust, cannot fail to be held by the strength of her vivid portraiture and her measured, limpid prose. As if out of nowhere, Némirovsky gave 21st-century readers an almost palpable sense of what it was like to be alive on the verge of one of the 20th century's major cataclysms. The reasons for the delay in the book's publication were at once mundane and moving: Thinking that the manuscript was a diary kept by their mother, Némirovsky's two daughters—who survived the war, shielded by a nursemaid— had simply been unable to bring themselves to look at it.   --Mark Rubin, WSJ
The biography, The Life of Irene Nemirovsky: 1903-1942, is by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt and translated by Euan Cameron.

Also by Nemirovsky:

+ David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, & The Courilof Affair published by Everyman's Library
+ Dimanche, and Other Stories, published by Persephone Press and Vintage International
+ Fire in the Blood, published by Vintage International
+ Several of her other books have yet to be released in English, but can be found in French, or in digital versions, on Amazon.

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