Synopses & Reviews
From the celebrated author of the international bestseller Suite Française
, a newly discovered novel, a story of passion and long-kept secrets, set against the background of a rural French village in the years before World War II.
Written in 1941, Fire in the Blood 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 novel is Silvio, who has returned to this small town after years away. 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.
"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.)
"Courageous, uncompromising....An entire world, vividly rendered, emerges from [these] pages....Némirovsky sets the tragedies of the plot in motion so unobtrusively, yet so surely, that when they come together the book has the inevitability and yet the shock that characterizes the books that mark us." Charles Taylor, Newsday
"With startling economy, Némirovsky telegraphs the prejudices, passions and taboos that govern life in this isolated community....Translator Sandra Smith deftly renders its noirish bite into English, giving us a taste of what Némirovsky the writer was like before history handed her the subject matter that killed her." Seattle 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
"[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
From the author of the universally acclaimed and best-selling Suite Française, a newly discovered novel, a story of passion and long-kept secrets, set against the background of a rural French village in the years before World War II.
Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family 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.
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.
Reading Group Guide
“Beautiful. . . . An enjoyable . . . portrait of manners from the first half of the last century.”
—The Washington Post Book World
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of Irène Némirovsky's extraordinary novel, Fire in the Blood, written in 1941 and now available for the first time in its entirety.
1. Is Silvio a reliable narrator? Is he honest with himself? How does he change over the course of the novel?
2. Silvio writes: “I enjoy simple things, things within reach: a nice meal, some good wine, the secret, bitter pleasure of writing in this notebook; but, most especially, this divine solitude” [p. 52]. Why is writing in his notebook a “bitter pleasure”? Why does he value his solitude so highly?
3. In the same passage, Silvio says, “What else do I need? But when I was twenty, how I burned! How is this fire lit within us? It devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. Then you see how much damage has been done” [p. 52]. What does this “fire,” which Silvio mentions many times over the course of the novel, represent? What kinds of damage does it cause to the lives of the main characters in Fire in the Blood? How does it get “lit”?
4. Silvio refuses to help Colette tell her parents the truth about her husband's death and tells her that, after she leaves, he'll do what he does every night: “I'll shut the gate. I'll lock the doors. I'll wind the clock. I'll get my cards and play a few games of Solitaire. I'll have a glass of wine. I won't think about anything. I'll go to bed. I won't sleep much. Instead I'll dream with my eyes open. I'll see people and things from the past. As for you, well, you'll go home, you'll feel miserable, you'll cry, you'll get out Jean's photograph and ask his forgiveness, you'll regret the past, fear the future. I can't say which of us will have a better night” [p. 86]. Which state of mind is, in fact, preferable? Does the novel seem to support one way of living-passionately or coldly-over the other?
5. What role does repetition play in the novel? In what ways do Brigitte and Colette both repeat the mistakes of their parents?
6. Silvio says that he's lived long enough to know that there's “no such thing as uncomplicated emotions” [p. 103]. Why does Silvio feel this way? What extremely complicated emotions-and complex emotional entanglements-does the novel explore?
7. Silvio tells Colette, “To you, Jean's death is a horrific catastrophe. . . . He was a poor, jealous, clumsy lad who's better off where he is. You blame yourself for his death? The way I see it, the only things to blame are chance or destiny” [p. 85]. Is Colette responsible for her husband's death? What does Silvio mean by suggesting that only chance or destiny are to blame?
8. François tells Silvio: “These people are incredible. . . .They can watch a man being murdered before their very eyes and still not say a word to avoid 'getting involved'”[p. 75]. Why do the farmers suppress what really happened in Jean's death? What ethos governs how they view and treat their neighbors? Why are they so reluctant to get involved?
9. When a carful of Parisians stop in Moulin-Neuf to get their car repaired, Silvio remarks: “They'll pass silent, sombre country estates and will not begin to imagine the dark, secret life within-a life they will never come to know” [p. 63]. What role do secrets play in the novel? What causes these secrets to come out?
10. Why doesn't Silvio reveal his own past secret relationship with Hélène as he tells the story of Colette's and Brigitte's affairs? Why does he wait until Brigitte confronts Hélène and François?
11. Brigitte disputes François's claim that she freely chose to marry Declos, a many forty years her senior. In what ways was hers not a free choice? What does the novel as a whole suggest about the position and relative power of women in rural French society in the years just prior to World War II?
12. The Preface to the French edition includes a journal entry in which Némirovsky outlines a novel idea: “Austerity, purity of parents who were guilty when they were young. The impossibility of understanding that 'fire in the blood'” [p. 133]. In what ways does this brief sketch accurately describe the main themes of Fire in the Blood? Why would Némirovsky write a novel about something that is “impossible to understand”?
13. Near the end of the novel, Silvio engages in a long, slightly drunken monologue in which he finally speaks his mind about Hélène. Why doesn't he actually say these things to her? Is he right in thinking that her happiness with François is only a pretense?
14. In many ways, Fire in the Blood describes a historical period and social milieu vastly different from contemporary America. What essential human emotions does the novel explore? In what ways does it illuminate issues that are still with us today?