A remarkable, panoramic biography of the author of Suite Française, a moving portrait of a woman and of her extraordinary times, and a sweeping saga of a turbulent period of European history, holding up a mirror to the world of publishing, intellectual thought, society and the darker shadow of prejudice between the wars.
Irène Némirovksy’s own life was as dramatic as any fiction. And few writers enjoy a posthumous resurgence as astonishing as hers after the international triumph of Suite Française.
She was born in 1903 in Kiev to a well-off Jewish family. The authors of this fascinating biography have had access to previously unpublished documents and to surviving family members in Russia, researching there her childhood in the Ukraine, and tracing her odyssey first to St Petersburg, where her father was a successful financier, and then, as the family was forced to flee the Russian Revolution, to Finland, Sweden and finally France in 1919.
They settled in Paris, and in 1926 she married another Jewish émigré, Michel Epstein. With the publication of David Golder in 1929 – delivered to a publisher just before the delivery of her first daughter, Denise – Irene swiftly became a highly respected and successful writer. Minutely considering and defending her against charges of anti-semitism, her biographers (who had access to all her writing diaries) examine in detail the way she used her life in her fiction (David Golder, Le Bal, The Wine of Solitude, The Dogs and the Wolves and others), from pogroms in Ukraine to gilded holidays in Biarritz, and especially the troubled relationship with her capitalist father and her vain and difficult mother. For a few years theirs was a hardworking, happy existence during which Irène wrote prolifically, both stories and novels.
By 1937, and with the birth of a second daughter, life was less easy. And the coming of the Second World War put paid to everything. When France fell to the Nazis, the family took refuge in a small Burgundy village, just inside the occupied zone, where she finished All Our Worldly Goods, wrote Fire in the Blood and immediately began Suite Française. In July 1942 she was arrested by the French police and deported to Auschwitz, where she died the following month.
Meticulously researched passionately felt, this is a remarkable, panoramic biography of an exceptional writer, a moving portrait of a woman and of her extraordinary times, and a sweeping saga of a turbulent period of European history, holding up a mirror to the world of publishing, intellectual thought, society and the darker shadow of prejudice between the wars.
“In its respectfulness and its dense poetic asides, beautifully translated by Euan Cameron, this tremendous biography is also very French”
Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph
“Her biographers have performed a remarkable feat of research, collating logn-lost notes and fragments”
Max Hastings, The Sunday Times
“An important contribution to understanding a complex, painful but ultimately triumphant story”
The Sunday Telegraph, Seven Magazine
“With this detailed and empathetic biography we have a chance to discover the woman behind it ... This biography is excellent at explaining Nemirovsky's process of literary creation and her psychological wounds”
Christopher Silvester, Express
“A memorable portrait of a strong, determined, sarcastic and humorous woman”
Caroline Moorehead, Literary Review
Patrick Marnham, Spectator
“Lavish in style and high in ambition”
Iain Finlayson, The Times
“Phillipponnat and Lienhardt scrupulously examine the extent to which Nemirovksy mined her own life and parental relationships for her fiction”
Claire Allfree, Metro
“A re-reading of Allan Massie's masterful drama about Vichy France.”
Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph, Christmas round up
“The author of Suite Francaise had a life as dramatic and as tragic as her fiction”
“A fascinating biography”
Lesley McDowell, Herald
“This book is excellent”
Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times
“This dramatic biography recreates her tragic life and the turbulent times in which she lived...Nemirovsky is one of those rare writers whose life is every bit as interesting as her work”
Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday
“This is a scholarly biography of a literary paragon... It is saturated with her writings, revealing her passions, hubris, moods and anxieties, as well as her thoughts of fiction, Jewishness and mothers... Russian social history, anti-Semitism and the Vichy regime's collusion with the Nazis are handled adroitly”
Maggie Armstrong, Irish Times
“An illuminating new biography, which draws heavily upon diaries and notebooks that have resurfaced in the last few years”
J.M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books