Synopses & Reviews
On July 13, 1942, French gendarmes arrested Irène Némirovsky in southern Burgundy. She was deported to Auschwitz where she died on August 19. Who was this woman, author of more than a dozen popular novels and more than thirty short stories, whose posthumous novel, Suite Française
, won France's prestigious Renaudot prize in 2004?
Born in Russia to wealthy parents, Irène Némirovsky immigrated to Paris in 1919. Although she was Jewish, she frequented authors and politicians on the extreme right, some of whom were openly anti-Semitic. She was sure that these friends would protect her from deportation after the Nazis invaded France. But instead, they abandoned her. Yet she never lost faith in France, even after she was refused French nationality. In this fascinating biography, Jonathan Weiss analyzes the discrepancy between Némirovsky's real and imagined identities, and explores a literary work that revisits in a unique way Jewish identity, exile, betrayal, and the solidarity of a persecuted people.
"Irène Némirovsky's brilliant 1940 novel Suite Française was a surprise bestseller earlier this year. Némirovsky published more than a dozen novels and several biographies in her short lifetime, achieving acclaim in her adopted country of France. But information about the life and career of the Russian-born Jewish novelist, who died in Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of 39, has been scarce. This short critical biography by Weiss, an expert on contemporary French literature, is a fine introduction to her work. Némirovsky attained literary stature in France in 1930 with the publication of David Golder, a satiric portrait of the Parisian Jewish business community. Weiss's analysis of the Jewish press's negative response to David Golder (they 'reeled, as if struck by a bomb') is excellent. Némirovsky continued to have a fruitful literary career until her deportation to Auschwitz. Weiss offers a discussion of Némirovsky's 1939 conversion to Catholicism, which appears to have been sincere although at the same time she was exploring the personal meaning of Judaism in her life. At times Weiss relies too heavily on autobiographical readings of Némirovsky's novels, but such a tack is understandable given that we are in the early stages of scholarly work to be done, of which this is a fascinating and important beginning." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a cruel story of a woman whose complex and contradictory life and writings highlighted the unforgiving times in which she lived." Library Journal
"[A] brief but intensely thought-provoking biography." San Francisco Chronicle
This short critical biography by an expert on contemporary French literature is a fine introduction to the work of Irène Némirovsky, author of Suite Française, who died in Auschwitz in 1942.
“This short critical biography by Weiss, an expert on contemporary French literature, is a fine introduction to her work.”—Publishers Weekly
"...A brief, but intensely thought-provoking biography by Jonathan Weiss..."
—The San Francisco Chronicle
Irène Némirovsky: Her Life and Works, the first English-language biography of the author of the internationally acclaimed novel, Suite Française, is an intimate portrait of a woman who bore witness to the tragedies that befell France in the early days of the occupation, and who herself became a victim of the Nazi regime. The result of close textual analysis of her work and primary documents passed on from Némirovsky herself, this fascinating book explores a literary work that revisits in a unique way Jewish identity, exile, betrayal, and the solidarity of a persecuted people.
About the Author
Jonathan Weiss is Professor of French Language and Literature at Colby College. In 1996, he met Irène Némirovsky's two daughters. With their help, he was able to consult all the documents that their mother had passed on to them. This biography is the result of that research and of close textual analysis of Némirovsky's literary work.