La vie d’Irene Nemirovsky (Olivier Philipponnat & Patrick Lienhardt)


This is the French original of the work whose English translation was launched during Jewish Book Week.  As I recall, there it was revealed that they had found some new material for the English version during a recent visit to Russia, in particular from Tatiana, the grand-daughter of Irene Nemirovsky’s aunt-cum-surrogate sister Victoria.  In fact, they may even have found some more documentary material…

From this book, it seems as though Le vin du solitude is highly autobiographical, certainly with regard to Nemirovsky’s childhood and her relationship with her mother.  I’m not sure that we really get an idea of what she was like–that may be inevitable with a biography of a writer, where we already seem to know more about the subject than any biography could tell us–and some events in her life happen offstage, presumably in the absence of any reliable evidence.  For instance, one moment she’s studying Russian and comparative literature at the Sorbonne while going out having a good time with her friends, while the next she’s married to Michel Epstein and engaged in producing oeuvres alimentaires to make ends meet.  OK, so her father’s fortune had disappeared about the time of his death, so that explains something…

How she met Michel Epstein, what their marriage was like–we never really learn.  Similarly, while she was determined to love her daughters in the way that she had never been loved herself, it appears that she wanted to have them educated by governesses, so that they (like her) would not have any schoolfriends–an irony that surely deserves some comment or explanation.

I also didn’t get an idea of what ways her books are like those of other French writers of her time, and in what way they differ from them.  There are odd cases where we learn about the same topics being treated by other writers, but nothing systematic.  The eternal undergraduate would be inclined to claim that the difference is that at the end of her freedom she was in the Burgundian countryside with no occupation other than writing Suite Francaise and no way of gaining control over her circumstances except by rising above them into objectivity.

We do learn a lot about how much she earned for what book when it was published by whom, and indeed the reason given for her never seeking to cross the line into Vichy France was that she depended on a mensualite from her publishers in Paris.  At the same time, her mother lasted out the war years in Nice with forged Latvian papers, which makes it sound as though survival was merely a matter of technique.

Irene Nemirovsky est bien plus preoccupee de litterature que de sauver sa peau, mais il se pourrait que cela revienne au meme car: ‘Ce qui demeure: 1) notre humble vie quotidienne; 2) l’art; 3) Dieu.’

Some time after Irene Nemirovsky had been…taken away…, Julie Dumot, who had agreed to look after her daughters, went to ask for help from their grandmother.  ‘I have no granddaughters’ came the answer through the closed door of her flat.  But they survived, and so–in the end–did what we know as Suite Francaise.

All that will remain of us is love.

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