Friday, February 24, 2012

Irene Nemirovsky (February 24,1903)

Irene Nemirovsky's book Suite Française became widely popular after its very delayed publication in around 2006. The story of the author's efforts to escape the Holocaust were both dramatic and depressing (well, all Holocaust stories are depressing). The New York Times review of the book is summarized thus:
"Born in Ukraine, Irène Némirovsky had lived in France since 1919 and had established herself in her adopted country's literary community, publishing nine novels and a biography of Chekhov. She composed "Suite Française" in the village of Issy-l'Evêque, where she, her husband and two young daughters had settled after fleeing Paris. On July 13, 1942, French policemen, enforcing the German race laws, arrested Némirovsky as "a stateless person of Jewish descent." She was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the infirmary on Aug. 17." (See "As France Burned" by Paul Gray)
I read Suite Française during its period of popularity, and like the Times reviewer, was impressed by the insightful and compact nature of the stories, and agree that "a knowledge of its history heightens the wonder and awe of reading it."

Now one question: how do I feel about Nemirovsky's clear distaste for her fellow Russian Jews, a distaste that was much more expressed in her earlier books? I'm really quite uncomfortable about it, although I understand how it was a product of the times. I can't help thinking other Jewish authors were able to write with both artistic and material success about their experiences without such self-hatred, despite what was going on in France at the time. At the time I read the earlier book was only accessible in French, in the first edition from the 1920s, having been (perhaps justifiably) forgotten. Her savage depiction of greedy rich Jews was in my mind a bit shameful; what a waste of her capabilities. I believe it has been published in English since then, but I don't feel like exploring the topic further.

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