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Posted November 26, 2009
David Golder and Anti-semitism
It is hard to fathom that David Golder, which established Irene Nemirovsky's reputation when it was published in Paris in 1929, is by the author of Suite Francaise, Nemirovsky's novel about the Nazi's invasion and occupation of France in 1940-41. Suite Francaise brilliantly scrutinizes complex human behavior amidst different levels of society, nationalities, and ages; by comparison, David Golder is insistently shallow because of its mono-dimensional characters. If the painful story of Suite Francaise, which Nemirovsky began in 1940 while the events it relates were unfolding, makes the author's death at Auschwitz in 1942 (aged 39) appear all the more tragic, the tone of David Golder suggests a wholly different reading of Nemirovsky's death as that ironic twist of fate known as poetic justice.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
That is a harsh judgment, but so is the harsh anti-Semitism that pervades David Golder. All of its characters are paper-thin caricatures of unscrupulous, money-grubbing Jews and its plot is no more subtle: a relentless account of a rich broker's Yiddish greed, and its consequences on those he had ruthlessly trampled. Repeatedly, Nemirovsky introduces her Jews with unmistakable markers of racial disparagement: they have hooked noses; they are dirty; they are sweaty; Golder's tightfisted Jewish friend Soifer "rubbed his trembling hands together in an expression of sheer delight as he reeled off. the names of the ruined shareholders" he destroyed. An unflagging litany of derision permeates this and other early books by Nemirovsky, whose language aims to belittle Jews: just as she labels the youth with Golder while he dies "the little Jew," so in The Ball (1930) Alfred Kampf is "a dry little Jew;" in The Courilof Affair (1933) an anonymous American journalist is "a rosy-cheeked little Jew" and Fanny Zart's uncle is a "little Jewish banker with his fat stomach."
Apologists for Nemirovsky, a Russian Jew who led a privileged life in a banker's family in Kiev and Paris, stress that she told 'Les Nouvelles Litteraires' she "would have greatly toned down" David Golder after Hitler's ascent to power -- as if her scathing portraits of Jews was acceptable in the 1920s, and as if it didn't matter that her book was rich fodder for the Nazis and French Jew haters. Her apologists also aim to justify Nemirovsky's Yids as claiming they are presented as pathetic products of their repressive culture, overlooking evidence to the contrary. Consider how Nemirovsky frames Golder's response when he is accused of wasting his own life on making money and of ruining the lives of others through his devious dealings: "I have always done what I wanted to do on this earth."
Astonishingly, Sandra Smith, Nemirovsky's skillful translator who must be too close to her subject to see the proverbial forest, reportedly declared, "I'm Jewish and I don't find [David Golder] anti-Semitic." Step back from the trees, Ms. Smith and your co-apologists, and you might see Nemirovsky more clearly: as an author affiliated with right-wing, anti-Semitic journals in Paris, and as an assimilationist convert to Catholicism who wrote to the head of the Vichy government, Marshall Petain, that although she was Jewish by birth, she deserved special status because she disliked Jews. She might have enclosed David Golder to prove her point.