Master of Souls

Master of Souls

Master of Souls

Master of Souls


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From the celebrated author of the international bestseller Suite Française, a novel about ambition and greed set against the fabulously wealthy French aristocracy of the 1920s. 

A starving young immigrant doctor of Italian and Greek descent, Dario Asfar struggles to establish his practice, and is desperate to provide for his wife and newborn son. When the vulgar, self-indulgent French aristocrat Philippe Wardes dismisses his personal physician’s advice to abstain from alcohol and gambling, he turns to Dr. Asfar for a second opinion. Understanding the opportunity before him, Dario obliges Wardes, and others like him, knowing well that the rich want to eat of the forbidden fruit without paying for the sin. At first Dario’s plan is just for survival, but soon he begins to enjoy increasing rewards by selling himself as a master of souls who can miraculously cure restless minds, and in so doing sheds light on the lies we tell ourselves in the name of family and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781737832744
Publisher: Kales Press
Publication date: 08/23/2022
Pages: 234
Sales rank: 661,037
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Irène Némirovsky was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1903 into a wealthy Jewish family. From there they moved to St. Peters-burg, Russia where she continued a life of privilege until the Bolshevik Revolution caused the family to emigrate to Fin-land, then to Sweden, and finally to France in 1919 where she immersed herself in the company of thinkers, artists, musi-cians and cultural elites as a part of the Parisian literati of her time.

Sixty-two years after her death, in 2004, Irène Némirovsky’s never-before-published Suite Française, a novel of France during the German Occupation, received the prestigious Prix Renaudot, and brought international acclaim to this gifted writer whose life was tragically lost in the Holocaust. She passed from typhus in 1942 in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of thirty-nine, leaving behind two young daughters and an enduring legacy in literature.

Sandra Smith was born and raised in New York City. As an undergraduate, she spent one year studying at the Sorbonne and fell in love with Paris. Immediately after finishing her BA, she was accepted to do a Master's Degree at New York University, in conjunction with the Sorbonne, and so lived in Paris for another year. After completing her MA, she moved to Cambridge, where she began supervising in 20th Century French Literature, Modern French Drama and Translation at the University. Soon afterwards, she was accepted to study for a PhD at Clare College, researching the Surrealist Theatre in France between the two World Wars. Sandra Smith taught French Literature and Language at Robinson College, University of Cambridge for many years and has been a guest lecturer and professor at Columbia University, Harvard and Sarah Lawrence College.

Literary/Translation Prizes for Suite Françoise:
  • Winner of the Pen Book of the Month Club Translation Prize (USA) 2006
  • Winner of the French-American Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize (USA) 2007
  • The Quill Award, USA, shortlisted for Book of the Year 2006, General Fiction category. (The only book in translation shortlisted.)
  • Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for Fiction 2006. Shortlisted.
  • Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for Fiction 2006. Shortlisted.
  • British Book Awards: Border's Book of the Year 2006. Shortlisted.
  • The Oxford Weidenfeld Prize for French Translation. Shortlisted.
  • Independent Newspaper Foreign Fiction Prize: only open to living authors, so ineligible, but awarded a 'Special Commendation' by the panel 19 January 2007.

Read an Excerpt

 “I need money!”
     “I said no.”
      Dario tried to calm down, in vain. His voice became piercing when he was upset. He moved his arms about frantically. He looked like a typical man from the East, with the worried, starving expres-sion of a wolf: his features were foreign, and his face seemed to have been hastily molded by a feverish hand.
“You lend money to people,” he cried out in anger, “I know you do!”
Everyone refused when he asked humbly. He had to try a differ-ent tone of voice. Patience. He knew how to make use of trickery, then threats. He would stop at nothing. He would beg or wrench the money out of the old usurer through sheer force. His wife and their child—who had just been born—had only him, Dario, in all the world to keep them fed.
     She shrugged her broad shoulders.
     “I do lend, yes, but with collateral. What do you have to offer me?”
     “Ah. That was better.” He had reason to hope.
     Sometimes, the person you are asking says no, but their eyes say
yes. Ask again. Offer some favor, something you can secretly help
with, a readiness to comply. Don’t beg; that’s useless. Bargain. But what could he give her? Nothing here belonged to him. This woman was his landlady; for four months, he’d been living on an empty floor in the little house she had transformed into lodgings for im-migrants.
     “Who doesn’t need money?” she said. “Times are hard.”
      She fanned herself. She was wearing a pink hessian dress. Her enormous ruddy face was impenetrable. “Horrible creature,” he thought. She started to stand up. He rushed toward her.
      “No! Wait! Don’t go!”
       What else could he say to her? Beg? Pointless. Promise? Useless. Bargain? How? He’d forgotten how. Living in Europe, Dario Asfar, an insignificant little man from the ports and hovels of the Middle East, believed he had already internalized feelings of shame, of honor. But now he had to forget the fifteen years he’d spent in France, forget French culture, forget his title as a French doctor, which he had fought so hard to earn in the West, not as you might accept a gift from your mother, but the way you might steal a bit of bread from a woman you do not know. Pointless European affec-tations. They hadn’t given him anything to eat. His stomach was empty, his pockets empty, the soles of his shoes had holes in them, here, in Nice, in 1920, at the age of thirty-five, just like when he was young. He thought with bitterness that he did not know how to use these new weapons, dignity and pride, and that he would have to fall back on pleading and bartering, the tried and tested, age-old wisdom.
      “Other people travel in a pack, surrounded by others, being led,” he thought. “I’m all alone. I hunt alone, for my wife and little boy.”
       “How do you expect me to live?” he cried. “No one knows me in your city. I’ve been living in Nice for four months. I sacrificed everything to come here. In Paris, I could have made a fortune. All I had to do was wait.” (He was lying. He wanted to convince her at all costs.) “Here, I only take care of Russians. I only know starving immigrants. Not one Frenchman calls for me. No one trusts me. Maybe it’s my face, my accent, I don’t know,” he said, and as he spoke, he ran his fingers through his jet-black hair, over his thin, swarthy cheeks, over his eyes; he had long eyelashes, like a wom-an’s, that half-hid his harsh, feverish eyes. “You can’t force people to trust you, Marthe Alexandrovna. You’re Russian, you know how we’re marginalized. I have French qualifications as a doctor, I’m used to France, I became a French citizen, but I’m treated like a for-eigner, and I feel like a foreigner. I have to wait. I’m telling you, you can’t force people to trust you, you have to be solicitous, win them over patiently. But while I’m waiting, I have to live. It’s in your own interest to help me, Marthe Alexandrovna. I’m your tenant. I already owe you money. You’ll throw me out. You’ll ruin me. But how will that profit you?”
       “We’re poor immigrants, too,” she said, sighing. “These are hard times, Doctor. What can I do to help you? Nothing.”
       “When my wife comes home on Monday, still weak, with a new-born baby, how am I going to feed them? God help them. What will become of them? Lend me four thousand francs, Marthe Alexan-drovna, and ask for whatever you want in exchange.”
        “But what guarantees can you give me, you poor man? Do you have any collateral?”
        “Any jewelry?”
        “Nothing. I have nothing.”
        “People always leave me some jewelry as collateral, or some silver, or furs. You’re not a child, Doctor, you can understand that I can’t help people out for free. Please believe that I’m sorry. I wasn’t made for this profession, loaning money with guarantees. I’m the wife of General Mouravine, but what can you do when life grabs you here?” she said, bringing her hand low on her throat in a gesture that had been applauded when she was a young actress in the prov-inces, for the elderly general had married her only when he was in exile, after recognizing the son she’d had by him.
She made the gesture of tightening an invisible necklace around her thick white neck.
        “We’re all suffocating from poverty, Doctor, my dear Doctor. If you only knew what my life was like,” she said, using the tactic peo-ple who are being begged always use: turning any pity they’re capa-ble of onto themselves, to better refuse lending someone money. “I work like a slave. I have to take care of the general, my son, and my daughter-in-law. Everyone comes to beg me for help, and I can’t ask anyone to help me.”
       She took out a pink cotton handkerchief that had been tucked into her belt and dabbed the corners of her eyes. Tears streamed down her face; it was heavy and reddish, worn with age, but it still retained the vestiges of her faded beauty in the curved line of her small, fine nose and shapely eyebrows.
        “My heart is not made of stone, Doctor.”
        “She’ll cry but still send me away,” Dario thought in despair.

        Each of Dario’s thoughts brought up a flood of memories. Whenever he thought, “We’ll be sent away. We’ll leave. We’ll have no-where to rest our heads. We won’t know where to go,” the images awakened in him did not come from his mind alone, but were carved into his flesh, flesh that had known the cold, and were burned into his eyes, which had stung from exhaustion at the end of a long night of homelessness. More than once he hadn’t known where he would sleep; he had wandered the streets, been thrown out of hotels. But all of that, which had seemed normal in his childhood, in adoles-cence, in his first penniless student years, today seemed like the kindof degradation that made death seem preferable. Yes, Europe had made him soft, that much was certain.

         He looked around at the room, the furniture. Three small rooms above a family-run boardinghouse, red floor tiles barely covered by some thin rugs; in the living room, two armchairs upholstered in yellow fabric, faded by the sun, and in their bedroom, their beau-tiful, large French bed, where they slept so well; he loved it all so much.
          He thought of the child they would sit in his little carriage on the narrow balcony; the sea breeze would reach him there, just above the roofs of the Rue de France; in the morning, he would hear voices shouting “Sardini, belli sardini” from the nearby market below; he would breathe in the bracing air; later on, he would play in the sun-shine.
          Dario had to stay, had to get some money from this woman. He looked back and forth between the walls, the furniture, and the face of the general’s wife, feeling anguish, anger, and hope. He closed his lips tightly and thought he looked calm, but his anxious, eloquent, despairing eyes betrayed him.
           “Marthe Alexandrovna, you won’t ruin me, will you? Four thou-sand francs, you could find four thousand francs for me. You could wait until the next three months, when the rent is due. You wouldn’t make me leave. You could give me a year. What couldn’t I accomplish in a year? With four thousand francs, I could dress properly. But right now, how could I even get into a big hotel? Who would let me in? I reek of poverty . . . Hotel employees in luxury hotels in Nice, in Cannes, in Cimiez promised to have me called if they need a doctor. But look at my shoes, wet, because there are holes in them; look at my jacket,” he said, pointing to the fabric, which shone in the sunlight. “I’m telling you, it’s in your own interest, Marthe Alexandrovna. You are a woman. Can’t you recognize a hardy person with a strong will and courage? Four thousand francs, Marthe Alexandrovna, three thousand! In the name of God!”
           She shook her head.
           She said it again, more quietly: “No.” But he was listening less to her words than to the sound of her voice: words meant nothing, it was the tone of voice. Had she murmured “No” impatiently? Had she shouted it in anger? If her refusal was truly absolute, hopeless, she would shout it in a rage and harshly send him away. But her “No,” spoken more softly, her tears, and yet the harsh look in her sinister eyes, which grew even harder still, insistent, and sharp, all those things meant that it had come down to bargaining, and bar-gaining was not to be feared. As long as it was a matter of wheeling and dealing, of arguing endlessly, of buying or selling, there was still hope.
         “Marthe Alexandrovna,” he said, “is there nothing I can do for you? You know that I am discreet and loyal. Think about it. You seem worried, Marthe Alexandrovna, you can trust me.”
         “Doctor,” she began. Then she fell silent.
          They could hear the sounds of the family boardinghouse through the thin walls; it was there that immigrants lived, quarreled, cried and laughed, hated and loved one another, spent the last of their money. They heard voices, the rapid, hurrying footsteps of young women, the weary, aimless footsteps of old men between those four sad walls. So much scheming, so many love affairs. So much trag-edy. The general’s wife knew everything, that much was certain. She needed him. He would not shy away from doing anything in the world. He felt the internal panic that invades the soul like a crash-ing wave. Above all, stay alive. Forget scruples and cowardly fears. Above all, keep breathing, keep eating, keep his wife and the child he loved so much alive.
           She let out a heavy sigh.
           “Come closer, Doctor . . . Doctor, you know my son’s wife, Elinor, the American he married? Doctor, I’m telling you this as a mother in despair . . . They’re just children. They’ve made a terrible mistake.”
She toyed with the handkerchief she was holding, then wiped her forehead and lips. The sun, just as it was disappearing, sparkled for a moment above the rooftops and into the room. It was one of the first days of a stormy spring. She was very hot, panting a little, and seemed more human, full of anger and fear.
           “My son is just a boy, Doctor. As for her, I think she has a lot of experience. But there we are. They didn’t say anything to me until now. But, Doctor, we can’t allow there to be another mouth to feed. I’m dying under the weight of everyone who is hanging on to me and expecting me to feed them. Another child? Doctor, it isn’t possible.”

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