Synopses & Reviews
A New York Review Books Original
When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française was first published, the world discovered a new great writer. Even in France, however, Némirovsky had been more or less forgotten for years, until her youngest daughter Élisabeth Gille, only five years old when her mother died in Auschwitz, wrote a book to bring her back to life. In 1992 Gille published this fictionalized autobiography of her mother, who had led a sparkling life in Paris as one of the most successful and prolific European 1930s writers before being arrested as a Jew and led to her death in 1942.
In the first section of the book, Irène looks back from 1929, the year of her first triumph with David Golder, to her privileged upbringing in Kiev and Saint Petersburg, the precocious only child of a warm, generous father and a vicious, preening, and distant mother. The family escapes Revolutionary Russia to arrive in France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity” that Irène will embrace as her own. In the book’s second half, the writer, her husband and two children have fled Paris for a small town in Burgundy, where they must wear the yellow Star of David, come to some accommodation with the occupying German troops, and plead in vain with Irène’s illustrious fair-weather champions to intercede on the family’s behalf. She now sees her earlier self as vain and credulous, blinded by her success to the horribly changing political situation, but it is too late.
As fully and deeply imagined as Irène Némirovsky’s novels, Gille’s mémoires rêvées will also prove indispensable to devotees of the nearly forgotten author for the new light it sheds on her.
"Gille 'rediscovers her lost voice by restoring that of her mother' in this unusual first-person imagined autobiography of IrÃ¨ne NÃ©mirovsky, (Suite FranÃ§aise). NÃ©mirovsky witnessed the pogroms of her native Russia and Ukraine, and lived the high life of an Ã©migrÃ© in 1920s Paris before being sent to Auschwitz (her children were saved) during WWII. Elegantly written if a bit mechanical (the author was five when her mother was arrested), this new translation of a work published almost 20 years ago in Europe will add to the fascination with NÃ©mirovsky. We are compelled anew as NÃ©mirovsky asks through the facing mirrors of a fictionalized self-portrait once removed, 'What could one say of the times I was living in, plagued by revolutions, pogroms, and interminable wars?' It is fascinating to ponder a daughter's occupying her artist-mother as a young woman haunted by the strained relationship with her own mother a woman self-centered to the point of passing off IrÃ¨ne as her younger sister. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A New York Review Books Original
Élisabeth Gille was only five when the Gestapo arrested her mother, and she grew up remembering next to nothing of her. Her mother was a figure, a name, Irène Némirovsky, a once popular novelist, a Russian émigré from an immensely rich family, a Jew who didn’t consider herself one and who even contributed to collaborationist periodicals, and a woman who died in Auschwitz because she was a Jew. To her daughter she was a tragic enigma and a stranger.
It was to come to terms with that stranger that Gille wrote, in The Mirador, her mother’s memoirs. The first part of the book, dated 1929, the year David Golder made Némirovsky famous, takes us back to her difficult childhood in Kiev and St. Petersburg. Her father is doting, her mother a beautiful monster, while Irene herself is bookish and self-absorbed. There are pogroms and riots, parties and excursions, then revolution, from which the family flees to France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity,” where at last she is happy.
Some thirteen years later Irène picks up her pen again. Everything has changed. Abandoned by friends and colleagues, she lives in the countryside and waits for the knock on the door. Written a decade before the publication of Suite Française made Irène Némirovsky famous once more (something Gille did not live to see), The Mirador is a haunted and a haunting book, an unflinching reckoning with the tragic past, and a triumph not only of the imagination but of love.
About the Author
Élisabeth Gille (1937–1996) was born in Paris to the banker Michel Epstein and the novelist Irène Némirovsky. She spent most of her career as an editor and translator before her first book, Le Mirador
, appeared and was immediately acclaimed as a major work.
Marina Harss, a translator and dance writer living in NYC, translated Dino Buzzatti’s Poem Strip (NYRB Classics).