The Némirovsky Question The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in Twentieth-Century France Susan Rubin Suleiman

Format:
Hardback
Publication date:
07 Feb 2017
ISBN:
9780300171969
Imprint:
Yale University Press
Dimensions:
376 pages: 235 x 156 x 27mm
Illustrations:
25 b-w illus.

A fascinating look into the life and work of controversial French novelist Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky succeeded in creating a brilliant career as a novelist in the 1930s, only to have her life cut short: a “foreign Jew” in France, she was deported in 1942 and died in Auschwitz. But her two young daughters survived, and as adults they brought their mother back to life. In 2004, Suite française, Némirovsky’s posthumous novel, became an international best seller; some critics, however, condemned her as a “self-hating Jew” whose earlier works were rife with anti-Semitic stereotypes. Informed by personal interviews with Némirovsky’s descendants and others, as well as by extensive archival research, this wide-ranging intellectual biography situates Némirovsky in the literary and political climate of interwar France and recounts, for the first time, the postwar lives of her daughters. Némirovsky's Jewish works, Suleiman argues, should be read as explorations of the conflicted identities that shaped the lives of secular Jews in twentieth-century Europe and beyond.

Susan Rubin Suleiman is the C. Douglas Dillon Research Professor of the Civilization of France and research professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She lives in Belmont, MA.

 "An intimate, perceptive portrait of a complex woman and her times. A useful biographical portrait of an intriguing writer."—Kirkus Reviews

"Suleiman offers a personal, poignant, and perceptive account of what she rightly calls the lingering 'Némirovsky question.' By this, Suleiman means the many questions which revolve around the dark star of Némirovsky’s relationship to Judaism, other Jews, and her own Jewish background. The author handles this complicated subject . . . with lightly worn erudition and deeply felt compassion . . . With her own knack for nuance, Suleiman captures the quality that sets Némirovsky apart, despite or perhaps because of her flaws: as a writer, she is attachant. We read and treasure her—we are attached to her—because, at her best, she brilliantly conveys the entangled state of our ties with others and with our own selves."—Robert Zaretsky, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Stimulated by her deep and subtle understanding of the French cultural landscape between the world wars and as stubbornly determined as a detective, [Suleiman] applied herself, through a close reading of Némirovsky’s work, to examining the experience of this Jewish novelist, Russian-born but French-speaking, on the eve of World War II. . . . Suleiman’s exceptional understanding of both the work and the time led her to echo Primo Levi’s refusal to pass peremptory judgment on people who find themselves in exceptionally difficult situations: 'We should beware of the error of judging eras and places according to the prevailing standards of the here and now.'"—Anka Muhlstein, New York Review of Books

"[A] measured, compelling new book. . . . Rather than bluntly judge, Ms. Suleiman makes us see Némirovsky as a gifted woman situated in a particular historical epoch, carefully analyzing her writings as a product of those times, and clarifying, without excusing, Némirovsky’s most discomforting passages."—Diane Cole, Wall Street Journal