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Fire in the Blood: A Novelby Irene Nemirovsky
We are lucky to have another novel from Irene Némirovsky. Although the book is short, the emotional impact is lasting. Fire in the Blood is a luminescent novel of love and loss.
Synopses & Reviews
Here is a missing piece of the remarkable posthumous legacy of Irène Némirovsky, author of the internationally acclaimed Suite Française.
Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and a friend when the author was sent to her death at Auschwitz. The novel — only now assembled in its entirety — teems with the intertwined lives of an insular French village in the years before the war, when "peace" was less important as a political state than as a coveted personal condition: the untroubled pinnacle of happiness.
At the center of the tale is Silvio: in his younger years he fled the boredom of the village and made a life of travel and adventure. Now he's returned, living in a farmer's hovel in the middle of the woods, and, much to his family's chagrin, perfectly content with his solitude.
But when he attends the wedding of his favorite young cousin — "she has the thing that, when I was young, I used to value most in women: she has fire" — Silvio begins to be drawn back into the complicated life of this small town. As his narration unfolds, we are given an intimate picture of the loves and infidelities, the scandals, the youthful ardor and regrets of age that tie Silvio to the long-guarded secrets of the past.
Némirovsky wrote with a crystalline understanding of the pretensions and protections of society, and of the varied workings of the human heart, in language as evocative of a vanished eraas of the emotional and moral ambiguities in her characters' lives. All of which was evident in Suite Française — and abundantly evident again in this powerful, passionate novel.
"When she was writing Suite Francaise in 1940, Némirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in 1942 before turning 40, was also reworking this novel, newly discovered among her papers. Though composed on a smaller canvas, it is another keenly observed study of human nature, and in this case of Burgundy paysans. In a leisurely narrative, middle-aged narrator Silvio recounts three interlocking stories of love and betrayal over two decades. These secret affairs, he says, can be explained only by 'fire in the blood,' the intense passion that can overtake men and women when they are young, highly sexed and vulnerable. Silvio's laconic descriptions of unappeasable desire are seasoned by bitter assessment of the wisdom earned after things cool. Linked through blood and common local history, the characters in this la ronde of betrayal exist in a seemingly idyllic community that is always alert for deviations from the social code. Némirovsky's restraint in unfolding her story contributes to the emotional crescendo at the story's denouement. In its penetrating distillation of manners and mores, this spare and elegant book makes a worthy follow-up to Suite." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Irene Nemirovsky surprised readers when her unfinished novel 'Suite Francaise' was posthumously published in French in 2004 and in English a year ago, decades after the author had died at Auschwitz. The subtlety of her observation of a nation at war and under occupation gave us a new perspective on France in the '40s. Now another hitherto unknown novel, which the author completed in her last years,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) has been discovered. 'Fire in the Blood' is set between the two world wars — the story is undated, but the hostilities of 1914 are mentioned as an important milestone — in a village almost identical to the one where Nemirovsky sought refuge before the Nazis deported her. It deals with two young women who don't love their husbands and who take lovers. The husbands die, one in a mysterious accident. In the course of pursuing the cause of this unnatural death, members of the parent generation, including the narrator, are confronted with elements in their own lives that they had forgotten or conveniently hidden away. Interlocking stories of love, death and nostalgia are embedded in a richly textured French countryside with its farmers and farmworkers, large houses and chilly woods, heavy furniture and an equally heavy consciousness of money and ownership. Nemirovsky casts a cold eye on this society with its lack of inner and outer comfort. 'No matter how rich they are,' she writes, 'they refuse pleasure, even happiness, with implacable determination.' Marriages are arranged at hard-to-digest dinners with 'soup thick enough for a spoon to stand in, enormous pike from the lake on someone's estate,' followed by two meat dishes and 'cheese, which everyone eats from the end of their knives.' The common meal does not serve the purpose of conviviality, for 'no one says a word.' Passion flourishes precisely because it is frowned upon and suppressed. The book also gives us a portrait of a happy marriage and the virtues of tranquility and empathy between partners who deeply care for one another. But the narrator is skeptical of the 'arrogant confidence that comes with happiness.' This narrator is one of the natives and yet an outsider, an old man who has traveled the world and returned home to his village, disillusioned and wanting only to be left alone with his wine and a pack of solitaire cards. Sometimes even his dog is too much company. He has squandered his fortune but enjoys his solitude, now that the 'fire in the blood' has burned itself out. He ruminates: 'Who hasn't had his life strangely warped and distorted by that fire so opposite to his true nature? Are we not all somewhat like these branches burning in my fireplace, buckling beneath the power of the flames?' At first, his main function in the novel is to observe his neighbors and relatives; his ambivalent voice allows for the right mixture of detachment and sympathy. Then the story takes an unexpected turn, and we find that our narrator was himself a significant actor in a past of which the present appears to be a replay. The core of this short novel is the unbridgeable abyss between the old and the young, between those who are still in the throes of passion and those who have passed that stage. Two generations think they know each other but don't. They make egregious mistakes in judgment because they don't recognize each others' emotions, the fire in the young and its absence in the old. To be sure, the old aren't old by today's standards, but they are the parents of grown children, and they have forgotten what the fire was like, especially the fire of erotic love. When something enters to disturb the status quo they have trouble coping: 'The smoothness and decorum of their features had vanished and you could see their sad, anxious souls peering through the surface.' The episodes mesh and the characters reveal themselves by and by in a narrative sequence that appears perfectly logical, though not perfectly convincing. We must take it on faith that certain people sometimes do and at other times don't act responsibly, that they fall in love with likely and unlikely partners, that they are faithful or not, without a deeper or subtler exploration of the whys and wherefores. Moreover, there are some loose ends, either by design, to leave open some moral problems that don't allow for easy solutions, or because the author wasn't quite finished revising the book, as the postscript suggests. 'Fire in the Blood' will not evoke the same level of interest as the masterful 'Suite Francaise,' but it is a beautifully constructed story in the tradition of the novel of adultery and an enjoyable, if somewhat chilling, portrait of manners from the first half of the last century." Reviewed by Ruth Kluger, author of the memoir 'Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] short elegiac novel about the brief yet passionate loves and infidelities of youth....Neither a masterpiece nor a curiosity but an elegant expression of universal longings rooted in a specific milieu, provincial France, that's observed with a caustic brilliance." Kirkus Reviews
"Fire in the Blood is short, at only 126 pages, but it is finished and polished, expressing more than many 500-page novels....So rarely can readers find such theme-rich prose. Every page, every sentence is a treasure." San Antonio Express-News
"Although it is hard to match the power of Suite Française, Fire in the Blood is strangely engaging despite its overheated prose. Némirovsky again excavates the hypocrisy and self-serving impulses embedded in French culture — and, perhaps, all human nature." Los Angeles Times
"[T]here's enough of Némirovsky's intelligence and caustic powers of observation to make Fire in the Blood more than a mere curiosity. For those who loved Suite Française, the existence of this quiet, melancholy story is good news." The Christian Science Monitor
From the author of the acclaimed and bestselling Suite Francaise comes a newly discovered, never-before-published novel — a story teeming with the life of a small French village in the years before World War II.
About the Author
Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903 into a wealthy banking family and emigrated to France during the Russian Revolution. After attending the Sorbonne, she began to write and swiftly achieved success with an early novel, David Golder, which was followed by The Ball, Snow in Autumn, Dogs and Wolves, and The Courilof Affair, among others. She died in Auschwitz in 1942.
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