Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bookplanet: another book from writer of "Suite Francaise" unearthed

New Work From a Writer Who Died in the Holocaust

PARIS -- It happens often enough. The author of a small shelf of forgotten novels strikes gold with a best seller, prompting publishers to reissue his or her earlier books, which, behold, suddenly also do well.

So it is with Irène Némirovsky’s “Suite Française.” First published in France in 2004, it has sold 600,000 copies in French and close to one million more in 30 other languages. And predictably, a dozen of her earlier books have since been reissued and sold for translation.

Now another previously undiscovered Némirovsky novel has been unearthed. A powerful tale of love, betrayal and death in a Burgundy village, “Chaleur du Sang” — provisionally titled “Fire in the Blood” in English — was published to warm reviews here in March.

What makes this case unusual, as many readers have since learned, is that “Suite Française” was written from 1940 to 1942 and was only published more than 60 years after Némirovsky, a Ukrainian-born Jewish writer, died in Auschwitz. Her earlier novels were published in the 1930s.

But that has not prevented their revival as well.

“We had four in our backlist,” recalled Olivier Nora, president of Éditions Grasset. “After ‘Suite Française,’ all of them were sold in all the countries where ‘Suite Française’ was sold. We followed the same path. When publishers were fighting over a book, we went with the same publisher as ‘Suite Française.’ ”

Albin Michel, which owns the rights to nine of Némirovsky’s books, has reported similar success both in new French editions and in the sale of translation rights, with German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, British and American publishers showing most interest.

Now, as if consolidating Némirovsky’s literary rebirth, comes “Chaleur du Sang.” Like “Suite Française,” this unpublished wartime novel was buried among a jumble of Némirovsky’s papers rescued by her young daughters, Denise and Élisabeth Epstein, after their father, Michel Epstein, was also deported to Auschwitz. He died there in November 1942, three months after Némirovsky.

Denise and Élisabeth, who carried their mother’s papers while hiding from the German and French police, were reluctant to go through them after the war. But after Élisabeth died in 1996, Denise began transcribing the handwritten manuscript of “Suite Française.” Finally, in 2004, it was published to acclaim by Éditions Denoël in Paris.

Denise Epstein, who is now 77 and lives in Toulouse in southwest France, has recalled that her father would often type Némirovsky’s manuscripts. And indeed, among the writer’s papers she found 10 typed pages of “Chaleur du Sang.” But the narrative broke off in midsentence.

Then in 2005, to ensure their preservation, Némirovsky’s archives were deposited at the Information Institute of Contemporary Publishing in Paris. And it was there that Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt, who are preparing a biography of Némirovsky to be published here this fall, found the rest of “Chaleur du Sang” in her own minuscule handwriting.

This short novel, which runs to just 155 pages in Denoël’s French edition, is evidently far less ambitious than “Suite Française,” which Némirovsky had planned as a five-volume epic reminiscent of “War and Peace.” At the time of her arrest, she had completed only two of them: “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” which together are “Suite Française.”

“Storm in June” is an extraordinary portrayal of bourgeois Parisians fleeing advancing German troops in early spring 1940. “Dolce,” written at a time when Némirovsky was wearing a yellow star, is the touching story of a French woman’s silent love for a cultivated German army officer who is billeted in her mother-in-law’s house.

What links “Dolce” and “Chaleur du Sang” is that both are set in a village inspired by Issy-l’Évêque in Burgundy, where Némirovsky vacationed before the war and where she and her family escaped after the fall of Paris. “Chaleur du Sang,” which will be published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf this fall, even names the Hôtel des Voyageurs, where Némirovsky stayed in Issy-l’Évêque for some months in 1940.

However, in this novel — which her biographers believe was conceived as early as 1937 though it was written at the same time as “Suite Française” — there is no suggestion of war. Rather, in the spirit of a novel by, say, Jane Austen, it dwells on intense, often repressed emotional conflict set against bucolic country life.

Its story is told by Silvio, a 50-something bachelor who has settled in the village after many years abroad. An observant loner, he watches the goings-on of his extended family, including his comely cousin Hélène; her childhood sweetheart husband, François; and their lively daughter, Colette.

Then tragedy — self-inflicted, not accidental — strikes and, with the complicity of ever-watching and ever-whispering villagers who prefer not to become involved, a cover-up follows. Similar villagers said nothing when Némirovsky was taken away by the French gendarmes in July 1942.

As in “Suite Française,” the fate of Jews in occupied France is not an issue in “Chaleur du Sang.” Rather, it is with the reissue — and new translations — of “David Golder,” Némirovsky’s first novel, that her attitude toward Jews has become the focus of heated debate.

Critics have noted that “David Golder” portrays a wealthy and embittered Jewish immigrant to Paris, that in the 1930s Némirovsky wrote short stories for some right-wing journals and that in 1940 she and her family converted to Catholicism (although this did not save her or her husband).

“Her supposed ‘self-hating’ has been more of an issue in the Anglo-Saxon world and Israel than here,” said Olivier Rubinstein, president of Éditions Denoël. “When Denise and I went to Israel for the publication of ‘Suite Française’ in Hebrew, there were virulent debates about her supposed anti-Semitism.

“I am not trying to hide aspects that are disagreeable,” he went on, “but I think the question is more complex. I think it was less anti-Semitism than the disdain that bourgeois Jews like Némirovsky had for immigrant shtetl Jews from Poland and Russia. And remember, we’re judging actions of 1938 with the post-Holocaust eyes of 2007.”

Mr. Nora said that the biography by Mr. Philipponnat and Mr. Lienhardt, which in an unusual agreement will be published jointly by Grasset and Denoël, contains new information that should help clarify how Némirovsky herself, rather than her novels, regarded Jews and her own Judaism.

Still, what “Chaleur du Sang” and new editions of her other books, notably “Le Bal: Autumn” and “David Golder,” have demonstrated is that “Suite Française” was not a solitary jewel in an otherwise ordinary literary career. Belatedly, Némirovsky has now taken her place among the small but illustrious group of foreign-born writers who have enriched French literature.


Post a Comment

<< Home