Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Book from the Darkness

One of the first crimes of the Nazis was the obliteration of Jewish voices and words, through book-burning, censorship, and the imprisonment and murder of writers. Erasing the Jewish perspective from history was the necessary prelude to erasing the Jews themselves from history. That is why stealing back a manuscript from oblivion represents a decisive victory over Nazism, a reassurance that no evil is so powerful that it can shape history in its own image.

The New York Sun and The New York Times both review Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirvosky, a Russian-French novelist who died in Auschwitz. Her husband died there some time later, but her daughters managed to escape, one with her mother's handwritten notebook. She only was able to read this notebook in the late 1990s and decided to have the 2 novellas, Storm in June and Dolce, published.

Fully aware that she was living through epic events, she decided not to write about them epically. This was not just an aesthetic choice but an ethical one: In an age that seemed intent on abolishing the individual in favor of the mass, Nemirovsky focused on a handful of ordinary characters, showing grand events only as they impinged on humble lives. This method is a perfect complement to what seems to be Nemirovsky's "message," the moral code that her most sympathetic characters avow. Lucile states it most directly: "I hate this community spirit they go on and on about. The Germans, the French, the Gaullists, they all agree on one thing: you have to love, think, live with other people, as part of a state, a country, a political party. Oh, my God! I don't want to! I'm just a poor useless woman; I don't know anything but I want to be free!"

The New York Times review says she "wrote, for all to read at last, some of the greatest, most humane and incisive fiction that conflict has produced."


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