Synopses & Reviews
The first major biography of the author of Suite Francaise
The posthumous publication of Suite Francaise won Irène Némirovsky international acclaim and brought millions of readers to her work. But the story of her own life was no less dramatic and moving than her most powerful fiction.
With her family, she escaped Russia in 1919 and settled in Paris, where she met and married fellow Jewish emigre Michel Epstein. In 1929 she published her highly acclaimed and controversial novel David Golder, the first of many successful books that established her stellar reputation. But when France fell to the Nazis, her renown did her little good: without French citizenship, she was forced to seek refuge in a small Burgundy village with her husband and their two young daughters. And in July 1942 Némirovsky was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died the following month.
Drawing on Némirovsky's diaries, previously untapped archival material, and interviews, her biographers give us at once an intimate picture of her life and turbulent times and an illuminating examination of the ways in which she used the details of her remarkable life to create "some of the greatest, most humane, and incisive fiction [World War II] has produced" (The New York Times Book Review).
"French biographers Philipponnat and Lienhardt draw on heretofore unexamined archives to present the turbulent, tragic life of Irène Némirovsky, author of the posthumous bestseller Suite Francaise. Némirovsky (19031942) lived through two great persecutions of the 20th century: the pogroms of her native Kiev and Odessa and, having fled Russia for France after the Russian revolution, the Holocaust. As WWII raged, with the Germans' relentless oppression of so-called 'stateless people,' her conversion to Catholicism did not save her. Némirovsky was taken to a concentration camp in the Loiret, then shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she died with Suite Francaise uncompleted. This book elegantly balances her life and the work, painting a portrait (if at some distance) of a spirited young asthmatic writer, daughter, wife, and mother. Descended from cultural rather than religiously observant Jews, Némirovsky's artistic sensibility survived an early monotonous environment formed by her commercial-banker father and the scorn of her vain, spiteful mother. The authors nicely cover the French publishing industry during the high-flying days of success when Némirovsky's bestselling and controversial 1929 novel, David Golder, was published as well as the upper-crust émigré Parisian lifestyle of the Jazz Age. 43 photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A phenomenally well-sourced, detailed, analytical, and beautifully written biography saturated with Némirovsky’s own bracing candor and penetrating insights....Philipponnat and Lienhardt chronicle every complex challenge, joy, and betrayal Némirovsky faced, up to her death at Auschwitz, in this propulsive, discerning, and devastating portrait of a brilliant writer in a time of escalating horror." Booklist (starred review)
"Anyone who admired Suite Francaise will want to read this book, because Némirovsky’s story was so extraordinary, her character so bewitching....This biography represents a remarkable feat of research, collating long-lost notes and fragments....[Némirovsky] emerges as irresistibly elusive, brilliant personality suffused with melancholy and tragedy even before the death camp beckoned." The Sunday Times (London)
"Informative and serious-minded....This book, which strives to tell uncomfortable truths, is an important contribution to understanding a complex, painful but ultimately triumphant story." The Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Riveting....[A] tremendous biography....Beautifully translated by Euan Cameron." The Daily Telegraph (London)
Drawing on Némirovsky's diaries, previously untapped archival material, and interviews with surviving family members, Philipponnat and Lienhardt deliver the first major biography of the author of Suite Francaise.
About the Author
Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt are coauthors of an acclaimed biography of Roger Stéphane, who was the cofounder of L'Observateur
and a pioneer of educational television in France. In addition to The Life of Irène Némirovsky
, they have collaborated on a number of projects pertaining to Némirovsky’s fiction, including prefaces to new editions of her novels. Philipponnat will curate an exhibit at the Mémorial de la Shoah based on Némirovsky’s life and works, which will open in Paris in October 2010.
Prior to their work together, Lienhardt worked as a press attaché at the haute couture house Yves Saint Laurent, before focusing on publishing and writing. He created and managed a Web site dedicated to book news, Parutions.com, until 2002. Philipponant was formerly a music critic at Compact and Cinefonia; he now writes as a literary critic for Parutions.com and Le Magazine des livres. He is also the author of The Superfluous Dictionary of Classical Music.