Nemirovsky: a fresh voice from the past
By Kimberly Richardson
Irene Nemirovsky’s unfinished novel Suite Francaise is a dream within a nightmare. This wonderfully engaging novel has a sad truth behind it. The author, while working on this piece, tried to flee Paris to escape the Nazis in 1942. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz where she later died. Thankfully, her manuscript was discovered by a relative and published for the world to read and enjoy. This was my first encounter with Nemirovsky’s work, and I am enchanted with her.
The novel is of two parts. “A Storm In June” tells the story of various Parisians who leave Paris during the massive exodus of 1940 and what their lives are like before, during, and after the nightmare. “Dolce” tells the story of a small town in France occupied briefly by Germans and the tensions between the soldiers and the townspeople that later lead to curiosity, a hint of romance, anger, and bitter regrets. Following the two parts are notes and letters written by Nemirovsky to various individuals as she lived her own WWII nightmare.
The one matter that bothered me at first was the fact that she wrote of the exodus with chilling detail before it really happened. I kept flipping through the pages, wondering if perhaps there was a trick to it all; perhaps something I had overlooked in my reading of her tale. I was severely wrong, and instead, fell in love with her words, her detail, and her life. She wrote with such a delicate truth that one can’t help but fall into step with the characters and assist them in living out their lives, no matter how sordid or righteous. There is an obvious feminine style to her work, and yet, there is also a steel rod that lies just within reach if matters get too out of hand.
Nemirovsky does not remind me of anyone I have ever read, and that is a good thing. Sometimes it is good to read an author whose words are like a burst of spring air or a cool glass of water on a hot day. It is good to read someone who has their own voice, someone who does not remind you of anyone else.
After reading Suite Francaise, I did something I very rarely do; I ran out and purchased another of her books recently translated. Because of this unfinished book, I wanted to know more about Nemirovsky. I wanted to feel that feeling of lightheadedness again after reading her work. So, I am now reading Dimanche and Other Stories and it is proving to be just as excellent as Suite Francaise, if not better. She had such a voice; it is a shame that it was snuffed out too soon.