Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fires of Autumn by Iréne Némirovsky (written in 1940, first published in French in 1957, translated by Sandra Smith, 2015)

Like most of her readers, my literary love affair with Iréne Némirovsky (1903 to 1942) began when I read her acknowledged by all master work Suite Francaise.  I then read her most autobiographical novel, The Wine of Solitude.  Next I read her very interesting David Golder centering on a White Russian family living in Paris.  From there I moved on to a very fun and wickedly funny novella about a teenage girl's revenge on her mother (Iréne Némirovsky did have "mother issues"), The Ball.  I also read her The Courilof Affair and Snow in Autumn, both deal with White Russians living in Paris. Némirovsky was from a wealthy businessman White Russian family that left Kiev during the Russian Revolution and ended up, after some time in Finland, in Paris. 
My previous read was her Jezebel, a seeringly powerful work about a woman obsessed with her beauty and sexual allure. 

To new readers of Némirovsky, besides telling you are so lucky to have come upon her, I would suggest you consider starting with Fires of Autumn as it is set in Paris from 1914 to 1941 and shows French society in period just as Suite Francaise begins.  The center of the novel, Bernard, volunteers in 1914 to fight the Germans. He is just eighteen.  Némirovsky does a brilliant job of portraying the horrors of warfare.  We see how four years in the army, when he entered the war everyone in Paris said the war would be over in a few months, changes him.  Némirovsky does a marvelous job of showing how the war impacted Bernard and French society.  After the war we a society gone money mad.  We are there when Bernhard gets involved as a front for a man who brokers trade with American companies.  There is a beautifully developed romance and there are regrettable infidelities. 

There are wondeful meals, artfully described elegant apartments, business intrigues, family drama, descriptions of Paris and much more in this wonderful work.

The final section of Fires of Autumn takes us to the start of World War II.  We see the impact of the war on daily life in Paris. Némirovsky does just a brilliant job depicting the city.  Bernard and his son both join the French Army.  I do not want to spoil the very dramatic closing chapters of the novel but I think the close will deeply move many readers, as it did me.  There is a knife thrust at the heart of Bernhard and French society in one sentence that is just devastating.  

As a practical matter, there are two Némirovsky novels available as Kindles and a collection of ten short stories, of which I have yet read only one, I have yet to read.  I really wish there were thirty more and I condemn the Germans for her murder at Auschwitz for depriving the world of these works.

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