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 ...
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.
Élisabeth Gille (1937–1996) was born in Paris, the daughter of Michel Epstein, a banker, and of the novelist Irène Némirovsky. In 1942, both parents were deported to Auschwitz, where they died, but Gille and her older sister, Denise, lived out the duration of World War II in hiding. Gille worked for many years as an editor and translator, especially of science fiction, and she was over fifty when her first book, The Mirador, appeared and was immediately recognized as a major achievement. Before her death she also published Le Crabe sur la banquette arrière (The Crab in the Backseat), a mordantly funny examination of people’s responses to her battle with cancer, and a short novel that reflects her and her sister’s life in the years after their parents’ disappearance, Un paysage de cendres, translated into English as Shadows of a Childhood.
Marina Harss is a translator and dance writer living in New York City. Her recent translations include Mariolina Venezia’s Been Here a Thousand Years, Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Stories from the City of God, and Dino Buzzati’s Poem Strip (NYRB Classics).
René de Ceccatty is a French novelist, playwright, and critic. His most recent book is a study of Giacomo Leopardi.