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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Nėmirovsky Question The Lfe, Death and Legacy of a Jewish Woman in20th Century France by Susan Rubin Suleiman, forthcoming 2017

Irene Nemirosky was born Febuary 13, 1903,in Kiev, in The Ukraine, then in The Russian Empire 
Her family left Kiev in 1917 at the time of the Russian Revolution.  Her family lived in Finland for a year before settling permanently in Frsnce. She was sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz where she died August 13, 1942.  She wrote some twenty novels, all in French, plus la number of short stories.  Her acknowled by all master work was the posthumously published Suite Francaise.  I fbegan with tgis work in July of 2014 and went on to treat all of her translated available as Kindle works.  I love the work of Irene Nemirosky.  The Nazis in murdering  her just before she turned forty robbed the reading life universe of at least twenty more novels.

"Némirovsky was the very definition of a self-hating Jew. Does that sound too strong? Well, here is a Jewish writer who owed her success in France entre deux guerres in no small measure to her ability to pander to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right. Némirovsky's stories of corrupt Jews – some of them even have hooked noses, no less! – appeared in right-wing periodicals and won her the friendship of her editors, many of whom held positions of power in extreme-right political circles. When the racial laws in 1940 and 1941 cut off her ability to publish, she turned to those connections to seek special favors for herself". From an article by Ruth Franklin in The New Republic - source Wikepedia 

The Nemirosky Question The Life, Death and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in 20th Century France by  Susan Rubin Suleiman is a great work, fit to take a place among the finest literary biographies i have ever read.  I order to derive maximum benefit from this book you do need to have read much of Nemirosky's work, especially her first novel David Golder.  You also will require a basic knowledge of anti-Semiticism in France in the period. Many critics and literary pedagoges have suggested that, as Ruth Franklin put it, Nemirosky was the epitome of a self-hating Jew.  Suleiman's book is designed to prove this claim wrong.  

I first read this claim after reading David Golder upon doing some post read research.  Numerous sources can be found for this contention. My first untutored reaction was that this was an absurd claim based on a very shallow understanding of human nature. David Golder has elements mirroring the life of Nemirosky.  The lead character David Golden is Jewish banker who moved his family to Paris because of the Russian revolution and to escape pograms.  He rebuilt the family fortune through hard work and shrewd business practices.  He is described  as having a large hooked nose, his wife cares about nothing other than making a show of their money and is ashamed of her busband's roots among among Eastern European Jews.   The mother is abusive to the daughter, just as Nemirosky's was to her.   There are numerous other works that Suleiman talks about that depict Jews in a way that any right wing contemporary reader would relish.  Pre Nazi France had powerful elements  of anti-Semetic running through the country, from top to bottom.  Many Ftench citizens welcomed the ideas of the Nazis toward Jews.  (There are numerous histories on this, some reviewed on my blog)   Suleiman goes through the much of the work of Nemirosky showing us the evidence for this theory and explaining the deeper reading of her work.  As Suleiman tells us, a Jewish writer can depict Jewish characters in a negative way without being an anti-Semite just as William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor depicted some Americans from the old south in very  negative ways without the cost of prejudice being placed on them.  The African American writer Zora Houston has horrific characters,mostly men behaving as would fit a racist stereo type in the Pre World War II American South in her stories but this does not make her self hating.  

There are elements in Nemirosky's behavior that superficially seem to give credence to the notion she was a self hating Jew.  She and her husband both converted to Catholicism, Nemirosky published short stories in right wing literary journals.  She never taught her daughters about their birth heritage faith. These publications often contained, next to her story, pure hate based articles on Jews, portrayed as a blight on France.  Some see in her mother's rejection of her the psychological roots of this in which she was made to feel ashamed of her looks.  Nemirosky came to need the income generated by her writings so she had to approach anti-Jewish publishers with kid gloves and some in examination of her life see this as a betrayal of her culture.  

Suleiman's work shows great psychological depth,  she spends a good bit of time talking about how cultural identities  are formed.  I was fascinated by her account of the lives of Nemirosky's daughters.  

She tells the wonderful back story of the posthumous publication of Suite Francaise, nearly sixty years after Nemirosky's murder.  I have heard it before but it was marvelous to hear it again.  

I found Suleiman's refutation of the notion Nemirosky was a self-hating Jew completely convincing.she also goes into much detail about her life and the state of France furing Nemirosky's  time.

I thank Prof. Suleiman  for writing this book, elegant, beautiful and profound.  Nemirosky's work is a world  class cultural treasure. Avery good article from The Los Angeles Review of Books (link added Nov.27,2016)

Suleiman was born in Budapest and came to the U.S. with her parents as a child. She is the C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France and professor of comparative literature at Harvard, where she has chaired the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures and the Department of Comparative Literature. She is currently Acting Chair of Romance Languages and Literatures. Her books include Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre (1983), Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde (1990), Risking Who One Is: Encounters with Contemporary Art and Literature (1994), the memoir Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook (1996), and Crises of Memory and the Second World War (2006). She has edited and co-edited several volumes, including Exile and Creativity (1998), Contemporary Jewish Writing in Hungary (2003), and most recently French Global: A New Approach to Literary History (with C. McDonald), 2010. Suleiman has won many honors, including the Radcliffe Medal for Distinguished Achievement (1990), and a decoration by the French Government as Officer of the Order of Academic Palms (Palmes Académiques) in 1992. She has held a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, and been an invited Fellow at the Collegium Budapest Institute for Advanced Study in Budapest and at the Center for Advanced Study of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo. In 2005-06 she was a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute. During the 2009-2010 academic year, she was the invited Shapiro Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Academic Degrees: Ph.D., A.M., Harvard University; A.B., Barnard College
Research Interests: 20th-Century French Literature and Culture; Avant-Garde Movements and Theories of the Avant-Garde; Feminist Theory; Problems of Narrative; Writers and Politics; Trauma and Memory; Holocaust Literature and Film. From
I was kindly given a review copy of this book by Yale University Press.
Mel u

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