Irène Némirovsky (1903-42) penned a novel that is perhaps the first literary work written about World War II, but it remained unpublished for more than 60 years. When her unfinished Suite Française was finally released, it became an international bestseller. Another novel, this one complete, has now surfaced. Fire in the Blood is set in a small village, based on Issy l'Evèque, where Suite Française was written. With a deft hand, Némirovsky renders personal conflicts and hidden motives in this rural peasant community, some of which prefigure those of Suite Française. A significant work by a Jewish writer who died of typhus at Auschwitz.
If I had read Fire in the Blood knowing nothing of its author or the circumstances of its composition, I would have guessed it was by some elegist of the French countryside like Jean Giono. Knowing that Nemirovsky completed this book about the timeless fire of love at the very moment an all-too-historical fire of hatred was snaking through France adds a painful poignancy to the reading experience. One can't help wondering whether the deeply held secrets at the heart of the plot had anything to do with Nemirovsky's own double life as she tried desperately to blend into an ordinary village in extraordinary times. With the return to print of four of Nemirovsky's earlier novels (including David Golder) planned for the coming months, we will soon be in a better position to judge precisely where this modest melodrama belongs in the larger achievement of a complex and remarkable writer.
The New York Times
Silvio, the narrator of Némirovsky's brief, posthumously published novel, lives alone on his small farm in pre-WWII rural France, committed to his permanent bachelorhood. But as he watches the affairs of young people around him, he recalls his early love life and the dying embers in his spirit start to glow again. Bramhall reflects this well in his deep, harsh voice by building up from Silvio's tone of quiet disdain and aloofness into one of possessive fervor. The French-accented English he uses for all conversation helps listeners place the story on a cognitive map. His voice lulls listeners past noticing the novel's unfinished state. The dropped strands of the plot, the chapters consisting of just a few paragraphs and the scenes with rougher edges all fade thanks to his low but intense growl. Fans of Némirovsky's more polished Suite Françaiseand romantics with a taste for passionately spoken French, will be swept up by this entrancing and evocative tale. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 3). (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
If you loved the author's Suite Française-and how could you not?-you'll likewise take to this recently discovered treasure by Némirovsky, who perished in Auschwitz. "Fire in the blood" is the passion that propels all kinds of human triumphs and follies in the lives of otherwise undistinguished French paysans, citizens of the countryside in the early part of the last century, "a region that has something restrained yet savage about it, something affluent and yet distrustful that is reminiscent of another time, long past." Love, intrigue, mystery, death, and murder all figure in this exquisitely wrought tale, as related by the reclusive Silvio, who reconstructs an ultimately shocking family history that links the generations in unexpected ways. So great is Némirovsky's reading of the human heart that her tale has the power of myth. And so true does it ring to reality that one could call it not so much a love but a life story. If anyone has taken an accurate reading of the pulse of the French, it is surely Némirovsky. Beautifully translated, this work is enthusiastically recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/1/07.]
Following the discovery and publication of the French novelist's Suite Francaise (2006), here's another lost work: a short elegiac novel about the brief yet passionate loves and infidelities of youth. The best guess is that Nemirovsky (1903-1942) worked on this novel between 1938 and 1942, when she was deported to Auschwitz. The first-person narrator is Silvio, a middle-aged man living in Burgundy, an agriculturally rich region whose small landowners and farmers are suspicious and dour. As a young man, Silvio left this stifling community to sow his wild oats and work his way around the world, "propelled forward by the fire in my young blood"-echoes of Joseph Conrad's Youth. Now, all passion spent, his inheritance squandered and his lands sold, he lives alone with only his dog for company. Nearby live his cousin Helene and her husband Francois, a devoted couple, the picture of domestic tranquility. The marriage of their daughter Colette to Jean, a gentle young miller, sets the plot in motion. Early in their marriage, Colette takes a lover, experiencing like Silvio that "fire in the blood." There is, however, a complication. The lover, Marc, already has a liaison with another woman, the unhappily married ward of Helene's half-sister. One night there is an "accident"; Jean is found dead in the river. It emerges that Jean had lost a struggle with another man; Francois, never dreaming his daughter had a lover, wants to involve the police. Eventually Colette's parents learn the truth, which in turn forces Helene to make a stunning confession of her own about her young, passionate self, and induces in Silvio the great mournful cry, "I want my youth back." There is one puzzling omission at theend which suggests Nemirovsky, a careful plotter, had loose ends to tie up. Neither a masterpiece nor a curiosity but an elegant expression of universal longings rooted in a specific milieu, provincial France, that's observed with a caustic brilliance. First printing of 75,000
Praise for Suite Française:
“Suite Française is miraculous for the power, brilliance and beauty of the writing.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Suite Française stands as a masterwork, an incisive study of human nature.”
From the Hardcover edition.